Imagination has no boundaries
Monday, October 14, 2013 4:51 AM
In the lobby at corporate headquarters of the big airline for which I worked, there was an attractive display of the history of aviation. Part of it was the Jules Verne quote "What man can imagine, man can do." For a long time, humans imagined they could fly, and sure enough, we finally did - via airplanes.
This week has been a week about imagination. It started with the Sunday comic strips when I read "Classic Peanuts" by Charles Schulz. I always love Peanuts, and this one did not disappoint me. Snoopy was in bed with Charlie Brown, who was fast asleep. Snoopy had his World War I flying ace helmet on his head, and he was thinking, or I should say he was imagining. "Here's the World War I pilot lying in bed at the base hospital. The memory of the terrible days in the sky drives sleep from his mind...his nerves are raw...the sound of exploding anti-aircraft fire drums through his head...a Fokker tri-plane cuts across his tail! Machine-gun bullets spatter the side of his Sopwith Camel! Flames! Explosions! Terror! Oh, the memories! The fear!
"Suddenly he emits a terrible cry of anguish....AAUGHHH!" That frame showed Charlie Brown sitting up straight, his eyes as big as saucers. The last frame was Snoopy, still with his helmet on and his red scarf around his neck, being kicked out the door: "Here's the World War I pilot being returned to his outfit."
I was thinking what a marvelous imagination and that we certainly exercise it more as children than we do as adults.
Just a few hours later, I was listening on the radio to the Sunday rerun of Saturday afternoon's Prairie Home Companion. Host Garrison Keillor was recalling times from his youth with his friends and their bicycles. Their bikes became whatever they needed them to be, such as motorcycles, then jeeps when they were soldiers, and tanks or helicopters as they needed them. On other occasions, those bicycles were horses as they herded cattle or fought the battles of the Old Wild West.
The bikes becoming horses took me back to my own childhood days when our imaginations could take us anywhere. I especially loved playing cowboys and Indians and I started thinking about how good we were at imagining because in ultra-flat south-central Minnesota, the terrain was not very cooperative. We had to really stretch to perceive our surroundings as the gullies and mountains and desert that we saw in western movies.
We did have Billy Creek, which was closest to town and a good venue if we didn't have a lot of time, or if our horses were too tired to ride that day. That location had not only Billy Bridge, where the highway crossed the little river, but also a railroad trestle, providing great hiding places to ambush, or to escape the law if we were the train robbers.
We also had First Creek and Second Creek. Both were out a country gravel road, so the horses had more difficult duty getting there. If we had a great long summer day, we would pack a lunch to take along, and imagine that the chuck wagon caught up to us at lunchtime. One of the appeals at First Creek was a tiny little island in the river, close to the bridge. We had to devise ways to get to that island, one of which was to build a dam that we could walk across. Of course if all else failed, we could always wade out because the water was not that deep. But that option didn't really fit with our scenarios; in our heads, that water was a cold, deep and rushing river that needed conquering.
The imagination theme carried on through this week. On Monday, I heard a rerun of Margaret Atwood interviewed by Kerri Miller from an earlier "Talking Volumes" show. She talked about the importance of storytelling. That made me think about good storytellers and the imagination and creativity that skill requires. Storytelling is critical for a good speaker, if the story illustrates well the point the speaker is trying to make. Miller posed this question to Atwood: "Do stories free the imagination?" A good question, I thought, because I already knew it takes a good imagination to create the story, but what does it do for the listener or the reader?
And then I heard Richard Dawkins interviewed about his new book, just out, titled "An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist." Wow, I thought, an appetite for wonder is just what sparks the imagination. And imagination drives creativity: "What man can imagine, man can do."
I realized I do not exercise my imagination and I don't know when I quit doing that. I do recall when my son was younger, I used to entertain him and my little brother by imagining things that were just around the next curve on the highway, or what stories that lone oak tree standing in the middle of a field could tell. But that's been a long time ago.
I did recently imagine that I could get a particularly huge task here at home finished in a certain amount of time. It hasn't happened and I guess it was just like the song says, "It's just my imagination, running away with me" as if imagination is a bad thing.
Maybe I need to imagine a little harder.