Lily Iona MacKenzie's Blog for Writers & Readers


What’s the big deal about the Imagination?

Imagination is such an important part of our work as creators, whether we’re writers, visual artists, musicians, and more. However, it isn’t enough just to have imagination, but it also needs to be educated, refined, and developed, like any faculty.  I could have a bent for playing the piano or singing, but nothing much will come of it without practice, lessons, and moving up through the levels.

In Annie Proulx’s interview in Atlantic Unbound, Nov. 12, 1997, she claims that the imagination is the human mind’s central life strategy.

It is how we anticipate danger, pleasure, threat. The

imagination is how our expectations are raised and

formulated; it excites and ennobles our purpose in life. The

imagination blocks out hunger, bodily harm, bad luck, injury,

loneliness, insult, the condition of the marooned person or

the orphan, grief and disappointment, restlessness,

desperation, imprisonment, and approaching death. And

from the imagination spring the ideas, the actions, and the

beliefs that we hold.

She goes on to say, “Imagination is the central pivot of human life. It’s complex.”

In a New Yorker article about his need to create a magical world, a place to escape from the brutality of reality, Woody Allen has commented about the imagination. He thinks humans need these escapes—that reality is too much for us otherwise.

I believe that since all the arts evoke our imaginations, the more we can partake in them, the better educated our own imaginings will be. But I must include dreams and our fantasies in this litany. They are the most immediate source we have for enhancing our ability to envision other possibilities since each night we have several of them. They often take us to new environments and parts of the world we haven’t yet visited. What better way to see the imagination in action and to stimulate that level in ourselves! Of course, travel is another way to give our thoughts play. Visiting new places, even if it’s only a few blocks from where we live, can rouse parts of our brains that may be dormant.

I live near the Rosie the Riveter Museum in Richmond, CA. By stopping by there one day, I was transported back to a period in U.S. history when working women were essential to the war effort and the economy as defense workers. A fictional Rosie has become an emblem of that period. But my ability to imagine myself in women’s shoes at that time is what made them come alive for me.

During this pandemic, when we’re limited in the actual places we can visit, we’re fortunate to have access to the internet, which may seem counter to another blog post I made recently where I criticized how our lives are taken over by that medium. Yet I now spend time in Berlin each week, listening to concerts offered by the Berlin Philharmonic’s digital concert hall, and I explore museums as far away as The Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the Louvre in Paris. What better way to exercise the imagination!

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