In college, I student taught a freshman seminar about imagination. I remember reading one batch of papers. The assignment had asked the students to write an imaginative story. Almost every student wrote about a superhero.
Although it made me wonder, I don’t think that meant they were unimaginative people, but it certainly meant something. The common experiences of that group (probably TV and video games) created pathways and triggers in their minds. It was like they had all uploaded the same imagination software package designed by Marvel. When you fed them that assignment, it bounced through the circuits in their brains and spit out “superhero.” It’s probably also why there were four Lilas in my daughter, Lila’s, pre-school class.
I think that’s why the power of a child’s imagination is compelling. At a young age, a child has almost no context to describe their experiences and very little language to do so. Marvel hasn’t gotten to them yet. At the same time, their experience of the world is just as vibrant. Many times, they are experiencing things for the first time: snow, puddle jumping, big dogs, you name it–to them it’s magical and new.
Oftentimes when my kids, who are still little, describe something, it takes me a minute to figure out what they’re talking about because they don’t use the preloaded language adults use. For instance: “I want the orange juice without feathers” means pulp-free. “The alarm clock in my toe is going off” means Daphne’s foot fell asleep. “Fanny lost her nose” means there’s an avocado pit in the compost that looks just like the dog’s nose. It’s the kind of honest, cliche free communication that writers strive for.
I don’t think adults are less creative, but our creative pathways tend to harden, especially if we don’t force ourselves to think out of the box. We turn into computers. If you insert the term “imagination,” the computer spits out “superhero.” If you insert “unconventional thinking,” it translates, “out of the box.”
When I had my first baby, I went through a creative renaissance. It was partially born of necessity–I wanted some new things and didn’t have extra money, but it wasn’t just that. I knew that each of us viewed the world from a unique perspective, but I always thought bigger, as in how my status as a middle class white chick influenced my views of socio-political issues. Spending time with a toddler, showed me that my perspective affected how I thought of everything, even something as simple as a glass of orange juice. My baby made the world new for me again.
The beauty of art often lies in perspective. As writers, we tell the same story over and over again, but everyone tells it slightly differently. Oftentimes, I think really successful writers (or doctors, painters, whoever), use a shift in perspective to reveal something true that can’t be seen without exploiting a new angle. I’m sort of kicking myself for saying this because now I have to think of an example… I’m going to say: Gone Girl. Gillian Flynn did a great job of playing with perspective in that book. It didn’t betray an injustice or anything, but it was mind altering.
Can you think of books that do this?