The thing about writing or losing your way in the woods

The thing about writing is, you can be anyone or anything you want to be. You can go wherever you want, have whatever you want. You can go as far as your imagination can stretch.

This week I thought my creative brain had gone to sleep and my imagination left town. I was suspicious of the fodder and chop of too many academic essays as the culprit for this desertion of imagination.

But this morning I went for a walk in the forest. Of course I’ve been walking daily, but instead of my usual habit of walking in the bush I’ve been walking up the hill to lectures. And that’s a different type of walking to the meandering Thoreau kind of walking where the brain is surrounded by nature and free to roam.

So this morning after walking for about twenty minutes, there was my creative brain, imagination in hand, ready to play. Aha! It’s walking that my brain is missing, nothing to do with academic essays.

So I’ve decided to call this walking Thoreau as distinct to walking with purpose, walking with friends, walking for fitness. Walking Thoreau means getting out in nature and walking to let the mind roam. It’s finding the body’s rhythm so the brain starts humming along. That’s when the creative brain really wakes up.

If there are people around or other distractions, such as phones or i-pods the creative brain barely wakes, because it is oriented in a certain way, like following a familiar track rather than taking the road less travelled.

You can take your worries walking. And perhaps you’ll find that after twenty minutes or so the brain has ground your worries into digestible pulp. And you can move onto more exciting things, like creating something impossible, a line of poetry to capture the beauty of the light through the trees, or coming up with a theory for gargoyles from a medieval perspective.

So, yes you can go where you want, be who you want, create whole worlds as a writer. The only limit is your imagination. So the question is, how to keep your imagination and creative brain waking and stretching.

The imagination, writing, and the Arts generally, offer up new possibilities. Then there is the hard work of making sense of it so that others can be awoken, inspired, see beyond the small boxes of mundanity, invited to ask curious questions or encounter stories that explore another world outside the limits that crowd the mind.

Humans have been coming to understand the world through sharing stories, and art, since the arrival of fire and language. The brain is storied, gathering the threads of what is, weaving it with possibility as the imagination lights the future, or the past, and always the present.

Stories make the unbearable bearable. Hearing of another’s loss when we are drowning in a great river of sorrow gives us a scrap to hold onto, like a floating log to a drowning man.

But we seem collectively to be turning our back on literature and the arts (at least our politicians are). The imaginations that thread story and art with living membranes of possibility are being left behind in the dust. We are developing a craving for the fast food version of imagination, social media, quick media grabs, scraps of story and pictures of somebody and nobody. Yes there are scraps of story that float around the internet, snippets on social media, and in the news. But the deeper attention to story, for diving into story and letting words wash through us, is being trodden down, buried in the collective psyche.

I don’t know what I’m saying or where this is going. I don’t have any answers only my own experience and observations. I feel very fortunate to have been immersed in literature and poetry at times in my life. It feeds something in me, shows me worlds I could not otherwise penetrate. It wakes my soul; that deepest part of me that is always seeking beauty and meaning, invites it to dance or weep or sing, to know more of the world.

Other people’s writing affects me, changes me in some deep way that I can’t articulate. I can see it in my writing and in my imagination. It’s subtle. But it is there. Stories change us like facts never can. Of course it’s experience that changes the brain, but story lets us step away from our usual orientation of the world, see the world from another perspective, giving us a different experience of the world we inhabit.

I am worried for our collective future, as the common perspective seems to be coming from social media, mass media or advertising. Instead of sitting down to eat, and being immersed in the feast of literature of larger stories available to us, we are becoming addicted to fast food, fast stories, that entertain and fill us up. It’s like eating MacDonald’s every day, filling up on sugar and fat with no real nourishment.

It’s not that there isn’t great literature out there. My concern is that our reading diet, attention span, and appetites are changing. And perhaps we are becoming incapable of diving into a novel and letting it take us through a different world view through its narrator and characters. And letting ourselves be changed by that, letting our imagination expand and swim deeper and wider than we knew we could.

Instead we grab the quick fix of storied fluff, gulp it down like sugar and come back for more and more because it can never satisfy.

It is the younger generations I’m most worried about. Who are so hooked in to technology that they seem unable to walk or sit without one eye on their devices. If Buddha was right, and happiness is only available in the here and now, then we are going to have a lot of unhappy people who only know how to live other than in the present.

I realize as I write I’ve opened up a can of worms and don’t know what to do with it. I want to put them all back in and close the lid, tight.

I wonder what it means for me as a writer. Who is my audience? Will there be anyone left to read my next book whenever I finish it, which is probably years away. Or will the next generations be incapable of reading something longer than a FaceBook page, or Tumblr post.

To have a great mind, one that can stand alone outside the masses takes a lifetime of wonder, and willingness to walk and let the imagination grow bold in the woods. Great minds don’t grow out of the flotsam and jetsam that floats through social media. Deep thinking takes solitude and effort, deep concentration and patience, the same as what is required to write a worthwhile book. Does this mean that the era of deep thinking and great minds that can and have shown us another view of the world and the universe are a thing of the past?

I don’t know. I don’t know.

In the meantime I will keep walking in the forest alone and let my imagination grow bold in the shade of the whispering pines. And hope that all those great minds that walked alone in the woods before me might live inside me, or let me glimpse what they saw, just for one long moment. Give me that long moment any day to a hundred days of fast, fat scraps of story that bombard my mind through every screen and device that I possess – or, that possess me!

Photo taken in the UNE pine forest April 2015 by rita

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