Imagination SchmaginationSun, 15th Oct '06, 7:55 pm::

If you know me personally, you could use the adjectives 'practical' and 'realistic' to describe me. I'm not shy about the fact that I have my feet solidly grounded in reality with a near-absolute lack of fantasy in my life. Every thought in my head has something to do with things I've done, things I want to do, and things I want to understand. It can be math problems, computer algorithms, process-flow diagrams, kayak trips, how-to-build-X guides, or even socio-political disagreements. Every single thought is based on something real and concrete. In my life, there are no video games, no role-playing, no fiction novels, no drawings, no story-telling, no fantasy, and certainly no imagination-beyond-what-is-actually-possible.

Yet that doesn't mean I don't have ideas or creative thoughts. I do. Tons of them! But every idea is about something that I can do realistically. Every creative thought is about something I can make possible given my skill set and abilities. Over the course of years, I have become so practical that there is no room for flying llamas and unachievable goals in my life. Now, despite shaking my head at Anne McCaffrey readers for so long, I'm beginning to think my way of thinking is just not right.

While each person has those "special and different" qualities in themselves, I think most people have a unique blend of realistic and idealistic tendencies i.e. to say, some people are more grounded in their acts and thoughts while some others are just "out there." Like everything else in life, balance is the key. Just a decade ago I used to love reading fiction. I loved making up my own stories or rather, extending the ones my dad so enchantingly spun. My earliest memories of playing with my toys consist of kingdoms and wonderlands I had imagined. Gradually though, I migrated towards function, away from form. Who cares about a magical land with funny-looking creatures anymore? I have to build something that's actually useful! And I did. Lots of little useful things I built up.

Then one day I could build no more. I don't know why but my true desire to create just vanished. Nevertheless, out of sheer habit I kept going on, a piffle made here and a trifle made there; always wondering whatever happened to that fire in my belly that had forever made me stay up late at nights working on something fantastic. I had some idea but couldn't put my finger on it. It wasn't until I was spellbound by the 2005 film Mirror Mask earlier today that I realized the true span of my impasse. I have forgotten how to imagine the extraordinary.

The emphasis on the extraordinary points to the crux of the matter. My imagination engine is working fine, it's just not working right. I can imagine a pretty backyard and greener grass. I can imagine a week long vacation driving through the curvy cliff-hanging roads of Washington and Oregon in Fall. I can imagine performing Eskimo rolls while white-water kayaking in Colorado. My imagination engine is allowed to imagine this because my Reality-Sentry has analyzed the activities and approved them based on their high probability of success. What I haven't imagined is curing cancer. What I haven't imagined is becoming a Best-Seller author. What I haven't imagined is inventing the Anti-gravity shield. I haven't thought of these things because, come on, what's the chance of me actually doing any of that?

Big deal. I don't think of what is almost certainly impossible. What's the problem there? The problem is that with time, the Reality-Sentry becomes stricter and stricter. It starts with classifying world peace and flying flip-flops as impossible and then slowly starts to include robotic vacuum cleaners and online video-publishing websites into the impossible-to-do list. After all, I don't know much about robots to make an automatic vacuum cleaner and where am I gonna get the bandwidth, time, and publicity to actually make my own video-publishing website worthwhile?

What you just witnessed was my brain putting anti-gravity shields of science fiction and video-sharing websites of reality into the same impossible-to-do category simply because it tried to answer "what's the chances of ME doing THAT?" without actually letting my imagination and hands have a shot at it. While this certainly saves me from wasting my time and energy on every foolish idea, in the end the ideas that I'm left with are so dull and easy to accomplish that I don't even feel motivated enough get started with them. The other day when I was sick of tailgaters, I wanted to make a device that measures the distance between your car and the one behind you and flashes a warning when get too close. A practical idea indeed. Certainly not impossible to do with some proximity sensor chips, a MIPS processor, and a few LED lights. It's so simple a fool could do it! Which is precisely why I didn't.

This is not to say that every simple idea is worthless. The world definitely needs more Ron Popeils to make our lives easier. But for me, easy and possible just doesn't do it. If I'm embarking on a personal project, it has to be something outrageous enough for me to get excited over. However, with such a starved imagination engine, I'll never really get much fodder to be excited over.

Of the few things I'm proud of myself about, the willingness to find my own flaws and make amends under any circumstances is something I truly feel good about. I may suck but at least I fess up to it and do something about it. I need to dream again. And dream big. Not for success, not for fame, and not for fortunes glorious. But for myself; to help me create that which is truly fantastic.

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