Shaun Levin

What’s the Imagination?

In Writing on September 2, 2020 at 9:45 am

How do you keep a short story short so that it doesn’t run away with itself? How do you stay focused without being too lean? So I’ve started working on a short story and I want to finish it in the next two months. I want it to be a story that takes – working-on-it-wise – about 10 weeks to create. Think of it as an assignment. Think of it as a thing that needs to get done. Some stories take years to get done. I’m not sure they need years, but sometimes that’s what they take. Some come out fully formed. Some stories – and I think this is the main point – know where they’re going and what they want to be. Some stories know what they’re about.

The aim is to forget you’re writing the story and to surrender to it. I’ve always liked the swimming metaphor, that feeling of moving forward, eh, swimmingly. By which I mean a kind of grace and even if not grace – a sense of moving forward with all the limbs moving. When a story is going well it’s like you’re in water, surrounded by something. I know that sounds a bit womb-like and maybe that’s what it’s like to be in a story and moving forward, that kind of effortlessness. Not feeling like a construction worker, a builder. Or maybe the pleasure comes from being a bit of both at different stages of the process.

The story I’m starting takes on a lot. It’s a story about running, with a focus on my first run in three places: Israel, England, and Spain, or more specifically: Ashkelon, Lyme Regis, Madrid. There are references to clothes and movies and other characters in each section. As I write this, I’m thinking: Maybe there’s a way to make it more fluid, to have the three runs merge into each other, create a sense of a single run, because that’s what we want from a good run: fluidity, flow, everything happening effortlessly, swimmingly.

The story starts with a downhill run. In this section I’m running down to the sea. It’s 1980 or 81 and I’m in England for the first time. I’m in my last year of high school and I’m on a trip to England. I like that point of view, the description as if recounting the details of a film or photograph. Also: making the writing process or the description process transparent.

Everything we write is from memory. Our imagination is a storehouse of memory. The present is a millisecond that becomes memory. That’s what our storybank is made of. Not storybank, maybe warehouse, maybe sea, maybe world. What is the imagination? (note to self: research Imagination.* What is it? Like, what’s it made of? Is it a specific part of our brain? Is it a thing?) Where are our stories drawn from?

* quick Wikipedia search in the 21st minute says about the imagination: “The common use of the term is for the process of forming new images in the mind that have not been previously experienced with the help of what has been seen, heard, or felt before, or at least only partially or in different combinations.”

  1. I’m very appreciative of that line: Everything we write is from memory. It’s good to know that we don’t have to actually create (I’m no good at that) but simply remember and merge, shuffle, layer all those memories and find connections, echoes, resonances.

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