Rebuilding the Bubble

Open Essay Question

When I was a little kid I used to carry around notebooks which I filled with hundreds of stories ranging in length from a single, whimsical sentence to pages and pages of fantasy. Every hour of the day, there were countless images and ideas running through my head. I remember writing down my stories while riding in cars, while walking down the street, while sitting through another day of second-grade math. My parents couldn’t stop bragging about my creativity, and my third-grade teacher signed my yearbook with, “I’m waiting for your first novel.” And then, somewhere along the way, I lost it. My mind grew up, and my colorful, crazy inner world was taken over by training in that purely adult skill: Logic. I started thinking, “Nah, rabbits can’t dance.” Gradually I turned away from creative writing, and after a few years, when I stopped to look for my imagination, it seemed to be lost. Children look at the world with a certain clarity missing in adults. Children don’t censor or second-guess themselves, and are thus able to express their ideas more purely. When they write stories, they don’t worry about infusing each word with deep multiple meanings, and often come closer to expressing what is truly going on inside their mind. After re-reading some of my old stories, I’ve come to realize that my ease of expression was founded in my lack of self-consciousness about the English language. I was entirely unconcerned with grammar, with topic sentences and supporting paragraphs, and yet my ideas shone through in spite of — or perhaps because of — my unawareness of the science of writing. Language, if wielded with too much calculation, can be extremely limiting. Thoughts don’t naturally come in coherent sentences; words are just a common ground that people have invented to make communication easier. A lot of pure meaning is lost in the translation of an image or idea into words. We all assume that language is such an innate part of us, but it’s not, not really.Perhaps it’s not so with everyone — I can’t pretend to know what’s going on inside other people’s heads — but my thoughts simply don’t come in word format. I don’t think in verbs and prepositions. My ideas, when they come, bubble up inside my head as bright, round, colorful pictures that are nearly impossible for me to describe. After those first few years of easy expression, it’s become very difficult for me to put my creative ideas into writing, because it frustrates me that I have these beautiful pictures and emotions floating around inside my head that don’t convey themselves readily onto paper. For me, words can get in the way of writing.In high school, being a good analytic writer is considered far more important than being able to write a beautiful, imaginative story. Over the past several years, I’ve worked hard at becoming a good analytic writer, yet my attempts at creative writing have been few and far between. I remember one story in particular, a creative assignment on The Scarlet Letter. I was reading the final chapter of the novel when I jumped up off my bed, and ran to my desk to jot down a single sentence. It described — badly — an image that had just come into my head, an image of a young girl staring out the window of her apartment building, watching a woman standing in the glow of a streetlamp with hail stiffening her carefully-done hair. The words that I wrote at the time, however, did not describe the image in my mind. The story was horrible. I remember selecting each word carefully, loading each sentence with multiple meanings and terrible self-consciousness. What I realized then was that it wasn’t that I didn’t have the ideas; I just couldn’t find a natural way to word them. I was trying to imitate people I considered “great” writers: Austen, Hawthorne, Ginsburg. What I hadn’t yet found was my own method of expression.Recently I’ve started writing stories again. I’ve been allowing myself to simply write down what comes into my head, sentence after sentence, without concerning myself with semantics and form. And, at last, here it is again: my imagination! When I allow myself to find my own way through my head, without concerning myself with how others might view my writing, I am at last able to tap into that imagination which, I now realize, has been there all along.Perhaps imagination emerges only when the mind isn’t being stifled by facts and rules, but when it is roaming and questioning and discovering new ideas, as it does during childhood. This year, more so than ever, my classes are making me think, and my teachers are giving me the freedom to develop my own ideas about what I’m studying. I’ve found that my class discussions overflow into my phone conversations with my friends, and are explored at the dinner table with my family. Every day I find myself questioning different things about my life, sparking my imagination and urging me to write. At last, I’m beginning to understand that there is a place for imagination alongside those “writing rules” I’ve learned, and I think I’m finally learning how to put the two together.

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