Saturday, January 7, 2012

Cultivating the Imagination

Ah! Those brilliant Bronte girls! Last night I watched an extensive documentary on the family, and was amazed at the level the Brontes lived inside their imaginations. The early loss of their mother and two older sisters seemed to drive them into imaginary worlds as a way to escape the pain of reality. Did you realize when they decided to write novels as a means of income, that they sat down and wrote AGNES GREY, WUTHERING HEIGHTS, and JANE EYRE in a period of two months!? Which proves how alive these characters and settings already were to the sisters. They wrote themselves. 

My agent, Bree Ogden, has a great post on inspiration and WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Read it here.

When I was a little girl, I was an absolute introvert. But I didn't need anyone to interact with outside of my mind. My parents had read to me early and much, and I had a whole landscape of characters I morphed into. Generally, I was a cat (my mother indulged me by pinning "tails" to my pants) going so far as to hiss and claw on all fours whenever we had company. My other favorite personas were mice (more tails) and bunnies (even more tails.) I recall spending one entire day as a fly, crawling backwards (I'd read they did that) and looking upside down at the ceiling, as if I were stuck to it. When I was bored at school, I would imagine my teachers and fellow classmates as their alter-ego animal selves, sometimes sticking to a certain species and sometimes creating a veritable mental zoo. Of course, as a teenager, my ultimate dream was to appear in CATS on Broadway.

I slept with my feet on my pillow, a la Pippi, became a spy with Harriet, and attempted, and very nearly ate, a fried worm. My mother even helped me fry it. She's the best. :)

As a freshman, I won an anonymous story contest by writing about a woman who hid her husband's head in a hatbox and kept it in her coat closet. That's all I remember of the tale, except that it was funny, and how I blushed when my classmates voted for it! 

I would love to tap into the imagination of my young self again. As I listen to the worlds my kids create as they play, I try to summons that younger me. I still love to pretend, only these days I call it writing and acting. Too much imagination can get you into scrapes, (as Anne Shirley will tell you) especially when you can no longer separate the two worlds (ask Branwell and Charolette Bronte.) But what a dull place this world would be without those of us who never really grow up. 

Lately writing has been such a refuge. I don't think I'll be able to churn out a decent novel in two months, but I've been surprised by my creative output. As a staff writer for a magazine, I have to submit several stories a month. I've been snatching at every idea that flits by, and quit being so careful. It's freeing. 

So, how do you release/tap into your imagination, especially when reality bites?


  1. Your agent's post, reminding us that Heathcliff kept bashing his head in a desperate romantic gesture, made me think of how brain damaged he must have become... But in all seriousness: that was another age.

    And all those pinned tails made you destined to tell Tales. (Bad pun, I know, but I have a hard time resisting those.)

    Wonderful post.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Mirka! I can never resist a pun myself!

  3. LOVED Bree's post on Wuthering Heights as well as her "What Inspires Me" one as well. I used to have a whole world inside my bedroom where my toys and dolls had all kinds of adventures and conflicts.

    1. Leslie, I think that kind of play is so healthy. I don't think today's kids get enough of it, especially as far as interaction with each other. My kids are always writing and producing little plays for the family, and it's unbelievable what comes out of their non-stressed out brains!

      Bree is awesome!

  4. When reality bites I like to let it knaw away for a while while I force myself to remember that it (life) is the source of so many inspirations. If I let myself remain open to every little detail in reality something fantastic is always bound to manifest itself at some point. :) I always find it much harder to fight against it...that's when the dreaded "block" comes.

    Great post! :D

    1. You are so right! I tend to run from anything painful, and then eventually comes the complete emotional collapse. You have to turn off your emotions when you go into hiding, which in turn turns off the creativity!

      Thanks so much for posting--gorgeous pic!