This novel that I’m writing is getting weird. It’s going beyond my normal experiences of life into an imaginative realm where an apocalyptic future and primitive past are melted. I’m also planning to weave in strange occurrences that defy reality. The more I write, the weirder things get. And I’m paralyzed by the strangeness of it all. I’m starting to feel like a freak.
I keep telling myself that it is important to exercise the imagination. To only spend life enjoying movies and books written by others is kind of lazy. If I expect my ten year old son to develop literacy skills–especially in writing, to encourage and draw out his imagination, then I must also practice. In order to teach writing, I must also write. When he struggles, I can relate. I understand how utterly frustrating it is to navigate setbacks. We simply cannot stop writing because it is challenging. We must go on, or become dependent upon others to write for us. This is dangerous, because in allowing others to write for us, we allow others to think for us.
Writing practices are critical for several reasons.
First, they invite us to encounter our own thoughts externally and bring light to the thoughts that arrive from the internal, unseen and spiritual source.
Second, the practice of writing imaginatively seems in opposition to the practice of mindfulness, where we settle in to notice the smallest details of the ordinary, and thus experience beauty. Peace. Recovery. But writing imaginatively is an exercise of freedom. It is gift that no one can take from us, even if we are imprisoned or riddled with illness. The consequence of not exercising this freedom is passive conformity to convention…a seemingly comfy space where everyone agrees and no one challenges. The scary truth is that imagination can be be washed out of us and suppressed by dominant ideology, controlling oppression and by the fear of being outcast from conventional society. It slips away in our need to be accepted. But it also fades when we simply stop exercising and let others imagine for us.
I admit that I have trouble exercising my imagination as an adult.
Imagination just feels like chaos. I went to school and went to work. I got married. I was trained to look normal. To think normal. To behave normally. To be efficient.
Imagination is supposed to be just for kids. A childish thing we put away.
And after a long time of trying to be normal, I give in and reject that. I have to because of this question:
What if regularly encountering our imagination made us better able to deal with the fear we encounter in reality?
A regular imaginative writing practice is an exercise to build internal strength. In imagining what might happen, I encounter fear from just enough distance that I can practice dealing with it.
In reality, fear rises the moment I imagine what could happen. So while anxiety rises and threatens to take me down, I have to stop imagining and get mindful of the present moment. Fear pulls me into circular paths of thought that disorient and make me feel small. Fear traps me in a labyrinth of anxiety. So what helps?
If I have been exercising the practice of imaginative writing, I’m better able to see through the veil of anxious, spinning thoughts and to recognize when I’m getting carried away in “what might happen” and thus transition back into what is actually happening. Getting in touch with imagination before fear actually appears helps me to rebound back into reality. It helps me to notice when I’m leaving reality so I can find my way back to it.
During the writing of this novel, I encountered a character who is nearly always afraid. Her husband’s response to her fear is a stern rejection. Normally kind and tender in love, he can’t tolerate her fear. He expects her to be strong and demands it for the sake of her survival.
And this makes her resentful. She wants him to accept that she’s totally freaked out and to comfort her. But he is not an enabler.
He practices tough love.
How many times have I expected my loved ones to be tough in the face of their own fear? I’ve expected this from people I love so that I won’t be dashed into the abyss of their falling down.
Fear is contagious. I don’t want to catch it. Because I hate feeling small and vulnerable and dependent and needy. I don’t like to ask for help or to be utterly dependent on someone else to save me.
Today, I’m making myself move through the hardening cement of a writer’s block that’s creeping in due to fear of being so unusual.
This is the precise reason why I must go on. I wish I could write lovely comfy stories with happy endings and emotionally safe and secure characters. But they just don’t appear on the page like that. They come to the surface holding bags of fear and rejection and uncertainty.
Just like me.