Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Imaginative Faculty

Last week, I revisited a habit of my childhood. I closed my eyes and listened to a baseball game. I frequently listen to games while driving, but under those circumstances I rarely have the opportunity to close my eyes. I watch a great deal of baseball games, something that I couldn't do when I was a kid. I remember a time when there was one nationally televised game a week, and the Brewers were only on TV when they were on the road and it was a night game. Now I've gotten used to having pretty much every Brewer game on TV. But every once in awhile, a day game isn't on TV. That was the case last week; furthermore, I had no other obligations. So I took my radio outside, set up a blanket under a tree, and proceeded to lie there for three hours, mostly with my eyes closed, while the Brewers rallied from three runs down, then blew a two-run lead and lost in the bottom of the 9th.

At some point, I realized that I was projecting a TV feed of the game in my head. When you watch so many games, of course it becomes easy to do that (and it really isn't difficult to visualize Jeff Suppan giving up home runs). This caused me to remember a conversation I overheard over 20 years ago. A friend of my mother's told her that she like it when her kid listened to games because it is good for his imagination. I remember my mom politely nodding, and me hoping that this would be an epiphany for her, that she would now see value in the hours I spent listening to games.

But however hopeless my desire for validation was then, I was struck with how infinitely more hopeless it is now. Would anyone who would learn of my Wednesday afternoon on a blanket under the tree be impressed with my ability to imagine this baseball game in my head? And if not (and I'm sure the answer is "no,"), why not? Why are children encouraged to develop imagination but then often derided for exercising it as adults? Why is it that we are so eager to compliment a child that we "catch" reading a book, but unwilling to bestow the same compliment on an adult? (Can you imagine a public library setting up a rewards program for the adult who can read the most books over the course of a summer?)

Of course, some of the answers to these questions are obvious. There is a sense that while anything is possible to children ("You can be anything you want to be when you grow up!"), grown-ups should not be looking to future possibilities, they should be anchored to the present reality. Kids can be Walter Mitty without reprisal, while adult Walter Mittys are just pathetic (even though we all have our Walter Mitty moments).

I think there is also an economic component to this phenomenon. Even though imagination can lead to innovation, there is no way to quantify imagination as an investment. Thus it is of dubious value in commerce, and ultimately the concept of "production" is privileged over imagination. The ability to produce something, even of mediocre quality, is looked at as a net gain, while to dream is to take time away from producing.

But I think there is one more factor that accounts for the diminishing value of imagination. If children spend their day in reverie, they are A) Kept occupied and B) Rendered harmless. If adults exercise their imaginative powers, they are liable to affect some kind of change in society. Too many people have too much to lose if the status quo is upset. And that's ultimately more damaging to the potential power of imagination than your favorite team giving up a walk-off home run.


Blogger Donna C. said...

Your Mom was very proud of the essay you wrote and included with your application to admittance to Concordia University. It fully explained radio games from the "imaginer's" viewpoint.

11:35 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home