Albert Einstein, who knew a thing or two, said imagination is more important than knowledge. “Logic,” Einstein opined, “Will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.”  I’ve been thinking a lot about imagination, courtesy of one of my favorite characters, Thea Harrison’s Pia Cuelebre. I’ve just finished reading Dragos Goes to Washington for the fourth or fifth time, and damn if I don’t glean something new from every reading. This time, I noticed how often Pia called attention to her failure of imagination. At the beginning of the novella, her focus is on how she could never have imagined her life turning out as it did. Later, she notes that she cannot imagine having to move the entirety of her people to another dimension. And finally, a lack of imagination results in her inability to see the truth that is right in front of her. The limits of our imaginations and the consequences of those limits interest me at the moment, so here we go.

Imagination is the capacity to see that which is not there; it’s concerned with the pictures in our heads comprised of memories- both real and embellished – and projections of what we hope – or fear — will occur. We can imagine things we hear about from others, or bring to life in our mind’s eye words from the pages of books. It is sometimes said that if we can imagine it, we can make it–and this includes creative expressions, athletic endeavors, work-related projects etc., etc. Imagination is as powerful as Einstein suggested. Smart guy.

So what happens when, like Pia, we have a paucity of pictures in our head?  It might not be such a terrible thing — it wasn’t for Pia in this most recent story. But sometimes, a lack of imagination can be a real problem. In my case, I vacillate between feeling wildly imaginative and being sure I’m the imaginative equivalent of a Muggle.

When I was young, I lacked any vision for my future. I could not see beyond escape from New York, which for me meant one thing: getting away from my mother. In my limited vision, freedom from Rhoda (yep, that was Mommie Dearest’s name, ’cause God has a sense of humor) was the end all and be all. I was never able to see beyond the escape itself. I couldn’t imagine life after Mother. So I didn’t. I had zero expectations for my life and almost the same number of hopes. When I finally hit middle age, I think it was easier for me than for others because there was no sense of, “Wow, I always imagined I would be farther down the path by this time in my life,” because I never even imagined a path in the first place.

A failure of imagination led me to accept poor treatment from employers, lovers, and friends. I never fancied that I deserved better, so I didn’t ask for it. A failure of imagination meant that I was very late to the party of self-actualization, fulfilling my highest potential, because I had so many primary needs that hadn’t been met, including safety, security, love and a sense of belonging to something bigger than myself. For a long time, I couldn’t understand the concept of self-actualization because I couldn’t fathom I had a self to actualize. 

Because I didn’t spend much time as a child nurturing my imagination, I feel somewhat cut off from that aspect of myself, which makes me sad because I believe that imagination is the engine of desire, and desire is the ultimate catalyst to achieve all of one’s dreams. Sometimes I feel empty in the part of my soul where I understand my desirous fire should burn brightest. I yearn for those flames to inspire me to new heights.

I feel like my imagination is a phantom limb that I am unable to scratch when it begins to itch. Nothing is more frustrating and nothing fills me with the same kind of despair. I know–I think–I hope it’s there, and I just need to figure out how to find it. Perhaps I never lost it, or maybe it’s just hidden underneath too much reality – and too many safe dreams.

Unlike Pia, my inability to imagine is a big deal. I wish I were more like Pia who can brush off this failure without too much thought. But I’m not. So I will continue to look for and cultivate my imagination and hope it’s less elusive than a certain mysterious unicorn.

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