I have found myself talking more and more in my interviews about the writer’s relationship to the imagination. The imagination can see but cannot be seen; it can be felt but it cannot be touched. It is, in all ways, the most constant and understandable connection human beings have to the non-physical, what is also called the soul or sometimes God. Writers, however, are notoriously practical people. Despite low-burning fantasies of wealth that often doesn’t come and fame that will almost certainly elude even the most successful authors, the writer’s primary concern is the next book, the next scene, the next sentence, the next word. The writer’s prayer is often, “Please let me just find a way to tell this damn story.”
Moreover, of all the art forms, writing is frequently mistaken for the most intellectual, the most academic. Writers appear to be sitting and thinking. Writers are often compelled in their work to explain stuff. Writers, if only accidentally, sometimes have big vocabularies. Writers, given the opportunity, can sound smart, and smart people, we have generally come to believe, are rational.
Which brings us back to the imagination. There is nothing rational about a story or a poem, and every writer must somehow or other make peace with this. It is my hope that my interviews provide a sympathetic and comfortable platform for writers to confess, as it were, that much of what they do, as the poet Coleen McElroy recently explained to me, is “smoke and mirrors.”
We mustn’t be shy about our smoke and mirrors. Every human on earth has a relationship with their imagination, whether they acknowledge it or not. Life itself is a continuous act of realized imagination. But humans frequently forget this. Humans frequently succumb to the misperception that life is a great mechanized clock unwinding with us trying to stay alive in it.
To turn to the imagination, to acknowledge it, to ask for its assistance, is to begin to awaken from the nightmare of a mechanical world, where everything is already dead but somehow still moving. The rational mind may fear the irrational impulses of the imagination, but only the imagination fully understands life, and only the imagination can create it.
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