Imagination is our most precious resource

Susan DeFReflectionsLeave a Comment

a gold ring in the center that looks like a portal with the shadow of a person in the center

If you’d shared that sentiment with me ten years ago, no doubt I would have agreed—I’m a writer, an artist, a creative professional—but deep down, perhaps I would have wondered: Precious? As in, scarce?

All my life, I’ve been bursting with ideas—story ideas and business ideas. Ideas of all types. The products of my imagination have never felt like a few precious flowers blooming in a desert—more like the flora in an overgrown jungle, constantly competing for sun.

But this is something I’ve come to believe, after returning home to Michigan for the first time in two years.

I returned in part to teach, at the Interlochen Center for the Arts, on the campus of the boarding school for the arts I attended for high school. Each summer for the last four years I have taught creative writing to gifted teenagers at Interlochen’s High School Novel Writing Intensive—five packed days of lectures, craft exercises, workshops, and readings.

Last year we had to go virtual, but go virtual we did, and there was no doubt about how important that experience was for kids stuck at home under lockdown. But really, no matter how this camp happens, I always have the palpable sense that lives are being changed because of it, creative trajectories locked in, minds and hearts expanding in the face of what is truly possible with fiction.

For the last four years, teaching in this program has been one of the most meaningful parts of my life. And this year, I realized it would be my last.

There are many factors involved with this—among them, what that intense schedule means to someone squarely in her mid-forties. But the biggest factor is simply that I’m getting ready to make some big moves with my focus and mission as a professional, and I’ve come to realize it’s time for me to go all in on this one big thing.

As with many endings, I knew it before I knew it—meaning, I knew it in my heart before I knew it in my mind. And when I realized it consciously, I wondered: How could I leave all this behind? When I was a student at Interlochen, the most epic thing I could imagine was coming back here to teach.

That’s when a voice inside me said, You did that. You got back here. You did the most epic thing you could imagine then. What’s the most epic thing you can imagine now?

How amazing, to realize that the most epic thing I could imagine doing now was what I’m already doing, which is laying the groundwork for an alternative MFA program called Workshops Against Empire—a program specifically designed to help those writing socially engaged fiction, and writers from historically marginalized backgrounds, break through into publishing.

It all begins with the class I’m teaching this month, Story Medicine: Better Stories for a Better World. Right now, I’m teaching it live, but this fall, I’ll be launching Story Medicine as a self-paced, asynchronous class available to everyone, everywhere, who wants to use their power as storytellers to make the world a better place.

My most epic dream as a teenager was to teach at the school where I was studying.

My most epic dream right now is to actually launch my own school.

In the course of my time back home, I spent time with all sorts of old friends, and at this time in our lives, it seems like we’re all seeing the results of our efforts, focus, and habits over the last twenty years.

Some of those friends really went for their dreams, and some did not. Some created lives that reflect their passions and sense of purpose; some basically just reacted to whatever life threw at them. And some are only now starting to actively pursue the dreams they had twenty years ago.

I can’t judge anyone for their life decisions; we all have a different path to walk, and different guides along the way. What I find most remarkable, though, is what happens when you’ve actually manifested the dreams you had when you were young, and challenge yourself to imagine beyond that, to something even more epic.

To do that, I think, you have to cultivate your imagination, your idea of what’s possible in your life, the same way you would cultivate that sense of possibility about your creative work. And so wherever you are in your journey, that’s my wish for you: the time and space to envision a life that truly embodies your passion and purpose–and the time and space to go for it, all in.

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