Imagine That

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2022-10-24 08:00:00-04:00 No comments

Most of us seem to associate "imagination" with "making stuff up from whole cloth". We congratulate kids on their imaginations when they make up stories about what's happening with all the toys they've piled in the middle of their bedroom floor. But imagination is not just the ability to confabulate; it's also the ability to see what exists in a new light. That's what the kids playing with their toys are doing. They don't just seen hunks of dyed plastic, but personalities, environments, interactions.

Over the course of my life I've emigrated from one kind of imagination to another — from just "making things up" to seeing what we have in front of us in a new way. I can't say I've been successful at making that work for me, but at least I've made the movement.

It wasn't until my late teens or so that I first comprehended the use of "imagination" in a political sense. The civil rights movement demanded of people the possibility of imagining a different world. If they could not imagine such things, they would never accept them or work towards them. I suspect that's where I also first started developing the utopian streak that runs through my thinking, one also forever tempered by my sense of realism. We cannot have utopia, but we can have better things, or at least less terrible ones. But that will not come automatically, and the great political lesson of the last two decades is how every hard-won victory for a more inclusive and tolerant society is too easily lost to indifference.

When I first started taking writing seriously as a Thing To Do, this utopian streak found its way into what I was doing with very little effort. The first book I wrote and completed, which I no longer have a copy of anywhere, was in its own clumsy way about these things. A woman with a career as a self-help / spiritual guru wakes up one morning with no memory of herself or her work, but surrounded by people who have a vested interest in her keeping up appearances. She instinctively rejects all that she did before, and tries to leave them behind. Unfortunately that one good part of the story was drowned in two or more bad ones — ridiculous, improbable, incoherent. I sensed all those failures even in the middle of writing it, but I wrote it and finished it anyway, so that I might be able to transcend it.

Thirty years later, I feel like I have barely done even that. I still have the utopian streak, the part of my imagination that wants to see what exists in a new way. But I don't feel I've done a very good job of refining how that vision works. I've made the gimmicks more interesting, but they remain gimmicks. Sometimes I think the gimmick is all that's there (Welcome To The Fold).

What I can lay claim to is some sense of how my utopian streak has been more elegantly pressed into the service of the stories I want to tell. I can't tell people everything is going to be great forever and here's how; but I also can't tell them we're doomed and here's why. Both are lies; both are different kinds of flattery. What I can say, though, is that keeping whatever little fires we have alight will help us make things that much less terrible for ourselves, and each other, and whoever comes later. And when very little seems certain, that is one of the few things I can stake certainty on.

Tags: creativity fantasy science fiction