Leaving Room for the Unimaginable

Leaving Room for the Unimaginable

Note: This post was originally published on my Lucy Varna blog.


A couple of weeks ago, I consolidated my writing journal with my day planner in my never-ending quest to work more efficiently. I had to buy a new day planner to do this. My old one was simply too marked up and I wanted to color co-ordinate activities, purple for reminders, black for writing activities accomplished. 

The new planner has the perhaps dubious benefit of inspirational quotes printed on about every other page. Things like, bloom where you’re planted and be so good they can’t ignore you (Steve Martin). I usually smile when I read those, even if I’m not reading them for the first time.

I set aside several pages in the “Notes” section for planning. On one page, I duplicated my planning spreadsheet so that I could play with my writing schedule and upcoming releases without having to redo my entire spreadsheet. The opposite page contains lists of series I’m in the middle of writing, as well as series/stand-alones I’d like to work on at some point. The page is full, and I write fairly small. So, lots of things coming up, if I can work them into my schedule (hence all the planning).

At the bottom of the latter page is this quote: “Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable.” –Mary Oliver

I didn’t notice the quote until after I’d already filled that page with all the stories I’d like to work on over the next couple of years, but it turns out the quote is particularly appropriate. Over the past year, so many people have directed well-meaning remarks my way. One person (not a writer) told me that they would never have committed to publishing such a long series right off the bat. (I politely responded that I’d planned the main series arc before I started writing.) Another looked at my “things I want to write” page and said he couldn’t imagine how I’d get all that done. Still others direct general comments at writers with a steady schedule, conflating the speed of the first draft’s production with the quality of the finished novel.

They just can’t imagine how it can be done.

Over the past few years, I’ve become increasingly discouraged by the way people stuff their minds into tiny little boxes and never peep outside. They never challenge themselves or their beliefs. They shun and degrade people who aren’t exactly like them, all the while espousing “diversity” and “tolerance.”

And then there are those that refuse to open themselves up to the great majesty of the universe we live in. There can’t be life on other planets! Scientists have created formulae proving it! And yet, nearly every week, astronomers publish discoveries of smaller and smaller planets, Earth-like rock planets with the distinct possibility of atmospheres and liquid water, and we have every reason to suspect that extraterrestrial life exists in our own solar system.

Perhaps I’m among the few that sees a real problem with this lack of imagination, with the lack of tolerance for ideas outside one’s current knowledge set and belief system, with the modern human’s inclination to live inside the safe room they’ve built in their mind, untouched by reality. It’s akin to Cro-Magnon huddling in his cave, cowering from nature’s fury and bite. Did Cro-Magnon cower? Probably. Did he go outside anyway? You betcha, and for that, his descendants can give many thanks.

Humans spread across this planet by stepping outside our comfort zones. We’ve innovated and discovered and explored because we opened ourselves to the unimaginable. And if we want to continue to survive as a species, if we want to expand into the galaxy and take our rightful place among the stars, we cannot live inside a little box in our minds where no one else can influence or reach us. We must, as Mary Oliver asserts, leave room in our hearts for the unimaginable and never, ever narrow ourselves to the comforts our minds already know.

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