I began to understand my own experience of fear when I started to see chronic anxiety, anger and intimations of Armageddon and the Dystopian world as a failure of imagination, the draining of the creative spirit. Young and wealthy mothers complain of a dangerous world, and are afraid to bring their children into the earth. Everywhere we go, we are drowning in warnings and alarms, preparing for cancer, the end of things, told not to eat lettuce or pet the dogs who are sniffing our bags and bodies.
The brightest and strongest among us are stockpiling fresh vegetables in their basements and getting ready to slaughter their own animals in their own backyards. Maybe so maybe not, but not the stuff of dreams. Dystopian visions and Armageddon mindsets – like bad news and cable TV arguments - are selling like mad, and the producers and publishers in the Corporate Nation cannot crank them out fast enough, in heavy competition with doctors and pharmaceutical companies urging us to have those friendly chats with our doctors. We can hardly wait to get to the theater and see how brave and determined kids butcher one another.
For me, this is not creativity and imagination, not the nourishment of the artistic soul, but the very opposite of it, a surrender to despair and a one-dimensional, even shallow, way of looking at the world.
If the young are busy giving up on the future, the old are deeply engaged in structuring their lives around doctors, tests and pills so that they can stay alive forever and at all costs, no matter how or in what form. Our political leaders fall behind Maginot lines, popping their heads up to shoot at one another or get their heads blown off. Our true national pastime seems to be the hardening of our positions, the judging of one another, telling everyone else how to live and feel, the sharing of pity and struggle stories. Pity instead the poor pilgrims in the middle, trying to live their lives and make their way.
For me this is a disease of the imagination, not of the world which, if you read much history, is in pretty good shape, as stunning an idea as this is. A few years ago, drowning in fear, I began to imagine a different way. To seek love. To think differently. To take photos, write different kinds of books, live a different kind of life. I rejected fear and pity and struggle as a medical challenge, or even as a therapeutic one. It became a creative challenge for me, I had to think my way out of it and create my way out of it. Mostly, I imagined a brighter and better life for myself. I thought of this this morning when I came across a wondrous message on my Facebook Page from Carol Devine of Boston. She was replying to a posting of mine, "What Are You Waiting For: Kill Fear." She had cancer, she said, and has had one surgery and is scheduled for another in June, one what is expected to have a long recovery.
"What have I done? Gone out and ordered a bicycle and I will ride it as long as I can before surgery, then keep it in my bedroom to inspire me to get well and ride it again. Some people think this is weird," she wrote. "Ooh, you should just sit on the couch and rest. Ha, ha,ha. I don't think so." A friend of hers quickly posted a message below hers, adding "oh, yeah, the bike is pink, of course!"
I was touched by the tone and content of this message, in awe of it. Here is a woman who actually does have cancer, who faces a notion of genuine Armageddon, yet is suffused with creativity, with the creative spark. A pink bicycle is a pretty creative solution to surgery and speaks to the power of imagination to imagine the life Carol wants and means to have, cancer or not. Thank you for this story, Carol, it makes my point better than I could possibly have.
When imagination fails, we cannot conceive of a better life, a life without fear and with hope and possibility. A brave woman with cancer is a mystical prophet to me. She has more creativity and vision than writers and kids and old people with all kinds of resources preparing for doom and counting their shrinking bank accounts and dwindling resources. When imagination succeeds, even cancer surgery does not quell hope and the search for an authentic life.