You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus. — Mark Twain
A woman I once worked with believed in a world in which everyone worshipped her and everything went her way. When actual events intruded — as in the time she “knew” a promotion was coming but instead got demoted — she’d acknowledge that “reality sucks” and try, sadly it seemed, to recreate her personal utopia.
Members of the Glass-Is-Not-Even-Close-to-Half-Empty nation tend to let their imaginations veer in the opposite direction. During the height of the late ’90s economic boom, my dad and I walked through the town of West Egg — I mean Great Neck, West Egg being only Fitzgerald’s imagined version of my hometown — which was manifestly thriving. When I marveled at the improvement since the last time I’d visited, my father looked around, became irritated and declaimed, “I don’t see it.”
On the day before Independence Day — aka my date of birth — I awoke before 5 a.m. to discover so many birthday-related emails they outnumbered the messages from politicians pleading for contributions.
There were several welcome epistles from close friends and family, and many more from Facebook friends, some of whom I actually know. (Note to Facebook friends I actually do know — sincere thanks for your greetings. Note to self: before accepting new friends, try to determine whether you know them.) Stranger were missives from such enterprises as The Tech Team and Absolute Writers Water Cooler — adding to their well-wishes a confidence that this year would be even better than last for our blossoming (entirely one-sided) bond.
It’s healthy to be mindful of the potential self-destructiveness of some fantasies, but maybe Independence Day can remind us that if Americans don’t get our imaginative act together,
we have no chance to get out of protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the worst economic meltdown in generations and the Gulf oil catastrophe, one of the worst environmental disasters ever.
Roger Nygard’s new documentary The Nature of Existence gives us a good-natured glimpse into the imaginations of brilliant thinkers from science, religion and other disciplines on life’s fundamental questions. If we try to let our imaginations run free and work shoulder to shoulder on real problems instead of fantasizing about self-aggrandizement — my own particular fave being high school basketball greatness — maybe we can become an imagine-nation and begin to turn things around.
If the ’60s were the we decade, the ’70s the she decade, the ’80s the me decade and the ’00s the e-decade, wouldn’t it be something if the ’10s turned out to be the i decade? Not I as in ego or Apple product-prefix or even information, but “i” as in “imagination.”
It’s the human condition to imagine stories we hope will be useful. My former co-worker was clearly the author of her own utopia, but that utopia was basically useful to just one person.
When Jean Paul Sartre said “I am the author of all the events and circumstances around me,” he wasn’t suggesting that we just make shit up on a whim. He was observing that imagination is necessary to deal with the facts of the universe — if we can’t know for sure what’s real, we can at least tell ourselves a story that works.
If we must imagine, why not imagine hope? Whoever said that the writer’s job is to paint himself into a corner and then hoist himself out of that predicament by the ropes and pulleys of imagination could have been talking about any of us. As a nation, as a species, we’re in a corner. Somebody find a pulley and some rope.
Michael Sigman is a writer/ editor, media consultant and the president of Major Songs, a music publishing company.
Crossposted from Huffington Post with the author’s permission.