There are a lot of words starting with “I” that are applicable to my island. ‘Island’ itself comes to mind, but that would be cheating. ‘Irritable,” for sure, and maybe ‘irascible’. ‘Isolated’ seems both too obvious and whiny. ‘Incomplete’ perhaps or as a positive ‘independent’. Words that should not be used include ‘interconnected’ and ‘immaculate’.
How about the word that is the sine qua non of my time here, ‘imagination’?
Imagination is a difficult word that is widely used, often interchangeably with ‘creativity’. The two words are connected but are opposite. Creativity leads to the construction of something actual. Imagination, coming from the Latin word ‘imago’ which is itself a translation of the Greek ‘phantasia’ (from which we get both fantasy and phantom) manufactures dreams. What we imagine is never a real thing, but rather a copy or an interpretation of reality. With typical English linguistic agility, we have added shades of meaning that may not have been there at the start. The word ‘image’ can mean both spectral (as in ‘imaginary’) and real (‘imaginable’).
Where would we be in a time like this without our ability to think about things that are conceivable but not actual? If we looked out the window and only saw empty streets instead of wide vistas to travel? If we looked at the walls and only saw, well, walls, wouldn’t our confinement be that much more severe?
So many folks have shared how their own imagination (or that of others) has helped to leaven the time. Imagination is at play in brilliant parodies of artwork or songs, in stories that are being written and told, even in the ubiquitous memes that are the communication currency of our time. It is present in the surge of crafting, where the boundaries of imagination and creativity are closest. We even see it in the solving of puzzles, jigsaw and otherwise, where we are literally creating an image from broken and scattered fragments.
With so much imagination powering the world right now, I will be fascinated to see how the other side of this crisis appears. Like any skill or muscle, imagination responds to exercise. The more stories we hear or the more creative work we produce then the more accustomed our imagination becomes to being used and the stronger it gets. It will be difficult to lay all that aside when the ‘normal’ world resurfaces.
I’ve heard some pundits despair that we are looking at the end of Art, as too many resources will go into technology and the economic rebuilding to allow for indulgence. But I genuinely feel that the resources of the imagination are inexhaustible. Rather than no artists, I think we will come out of this with a generation that is all artists. Art and imagination will continue to be prized and even rewarded, as those of us who are most imaginative in our responses to the crisis will be the ones in positions to lead us out of our exile.