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Just imagine . . .
imagine? Itís strange how we use the word Ďjustí to pre-fix the noun. For what is it to imagine? Without having a dictionary to hand Iím guessing that the word has its root in the shorter word image, which in turn is another term for picture. So letís picture this: just imagine we didnít have the ability to exercise our imagination. That requires using imagination to imagine not having one. It gets complicated. But itís not semantics I want to get into here; rather, Iím intrigued by what it means to exercise, or not exercise, oneís imagination.
I work with young people with very limited imaginations. They can be smart, streetwise, even cunning, but when it comes to active imagination, something is seriously lacking. Perhaps itís the poverty of their home environment, or maybe it comes down to their limited experience of life. Iím not suggesting that kids today are any less imaginative than the kids of yesteryear. Itís just the demographic I work with. Itís sad though because not only do they actively lack imagination they actively barricade themselves against any attempt to impact upon this lack, afraid it would be too much like hard work . . .
. . . or scary, because once you start to imagine what is possible you have to start asking all sorts of difficult questions like, what would it be like if . . .? Or how might things have to change if . . .? And then you run headlong into the issue of change which throws up the issue of fear versus growth, which for kids who like to pretend they know it all can seem decidedly unattractive, especially when youíre trying to appear normal and fit in. Of course this in turn begs the question: are we adults so different? Iím guessing not. Itís a people thing.
Walk into any good bookstore and youíll find dozens of books dedicated to self development and personal growth. Read the blurb on the back and youíll find lots of people promising to help you turn your life around and become more self-actualised or more creative or happier or whatever it is the book is trying to promote. Iím not knocking them. Iíve read a lot of good ones myself. There seems to be a real need for some people to move beyond their circumstances and do something more with their lives but to do so requires imagination: that and courage.
I remember walking into Adelaide Cathedral when I was in my late teens and stumbling across a book called
Fully Human, Fully Alive
. The name of the author escapes me now but Iíll never forget the feeling of empowerment it gave me. It was like someone was saying to me, Yes, you can! Thatís a really powerful thing to believe when youíre young. One of the reasons I have always loved being an art teacher is the buzz I get from inspiring young kids. Sadly, my current job has stifled that part of me. Itís why I have to leave.
So what is the absence of imagination? Itís to accept the status quo. Itís to buy into consensus reality which states by common agreement, often unspoken, that things are fixed and thereís very little we can do about it. Itís to see ourselves as victims of circumstance: this happened to me in the past therefore this is the way I am now; Iíd like to be able to move forward in my life but I canít break free from the chains of the past. Itís to see oneself as effect in the universe rather than as cause.
Hmph! Seven days in and Iím lost for words, begging the question, is this the month that finally defeats me? If I give up now I know I may never pick it up again and that would herald defeat. Sure, I might write the occasional batch from time to time but if I allow a whole month to go by I doubt Iíd ever again find the wherewithal to resurrect and maintain such a sustained effort. Perhaps I could fill the next 24 entries with blah blah blah. It would certainly be a reflection of my current state of mind.
Actually, I donít think 24 entries of blah blah are going to be necessary. Sometimes I just need to get a handle on what it is I want to say and today my grip feels strong. If imagining is the theme for this month then Melbourne has very much become the focus. For the first time in a very long time my Melbourne identity is awakening. Sure, itís a much smaller city than London and yes, itís a long way away, but as the time of my departure from London gets closer Melbourne is finally beginning to feel like home.
It feels enticingly like it was meant to be but I have to be careful. I canít allow myself to become complacent. Preparation is of the essence. Still, I canít help thinking how ideal it would be. It would make the transition period so much easier, not to mention enjoyable. Itís not like Iíd be walking back into my old job. My role would be a completely different one and itís possible I might be considered unsuitable. Time will tell. Until then I have to keep my eye on the ball and make sure I know what Iím talking about.
Okay, so this is what Iíve been thinking. Iím imagining myself living back in Melbourne, living in our apartment in the city and working back at the school where I was teaching before we came to London. Iím imagining this because tomorrow I have an interview for a position at that school. Itís only for a term but it would prove to be an invaluable financial stopgap. It would also provide an enormous leg up as I try to reposition myself back in the Melbourne job market.
And when I say imagining, I mean
imagining. I really
So by 7am I was sitting in front of the webcam dressed in a crisp white shirt and tie, the most nervous Iíve ever been in my own living room. The interview was conducted using Skype. It was rigorous, thorough yet refreshingly cordial. Itís been nearly ten years since I worked there and the senior management is completely new. I answered all of the questions confidently. We even had a few laughs. Nonetheless, nothing could be taken for granted, until they said,
ďWell, weíd really like to offer you the position.Ē
And I said,
ďWell, Iíd really like to accept.Ē
Who could have imagined a few years ago that it would be possible to be interviewed for a job halfway around the world? All this time Iíve been under the impression that I would need to be back in Melbourne before I could seriously be considered for a position and here I am having secured such a position over the internet. That in itself is testament to how much has changed during a few short years. No doubt there are those for whom such things are commonplace. For me however, the phenomenon has a real sense of wonder about it.
Imagination can be a double-edged sword. There are times when I have been all but crippled by the darkest of wild imaginings, most of which have rarely, if ever, come to fruition. There have been other times when I have allowed myself to indulge in flights of fancy so outrageous and absurd that Iím almost embarrassed to admit to them. More commonly I tend to find myself oscillating between imaginings of what might be possible and lurking fears about what might prevent such imaginings from being realised. And if Iím honest, a general lack of initiative is usually the culprit.
Itís happening again. Iíve been gazing into space with absolutely nothing to write about. Itís ironic that having chosen imagination as the theme for this month my mind keeps going blank. Until a couple of months ago Iíd always written my entries longhand; then I had the bright idea of using the laptop. It worked for a while but I can no longer connect with it. Instead, having gazed at the empty screen for an hour or more, Iím sitting downstairs in the coffee shop sipping a frappe latte and listening to strains of Joni Mitchell playing in the background.
I think Iíll scrap the thematic approach. My mood is so changeable of late, itís simply serving no useful purpose. Thereís such a lot going on at the moment, Iím finding it challenging enough to stick at this project, let alone be creative with it. Sometimes itís more important to push on through and do a half-decent job rather than become immobilised by some abstract notion of what constitutes good writing. Thereís a part of me thatís sorely tempted to let this whole hundred words business go and itís taking every bit of determination not to submit to the temptation.
Itís always interesting to see London through the eyes of Australian friends and acquaintances who look us up when passing through. Today it was our accountant and his wife over from Melbourne. While he is a little on the dry side his wife is an absolute hoot, a typical Melbourne matriarch with all the eccentricity and passion that such a title suggests. Having been travelling for nearly three months they both had many stories to share and what might potentially have been an obligatory afternoon of dull conversation turned out to be a lot of fun with lots of laughter.
I had to send a colleague of mine home this morning. Her mother is dying from cancer and despite having put on a brave face for many weeks now, today was the day when the cold realisation of inevitability crept up from behind and brought her world tumbling down around her. As years go, itís not been a good one for the elderly parents and relatives of so many of my friends and acquaintances. It serves to reinforce the importance of making the most of the time we have and of making sure weíre living life to the fullest. Amen.
I have to keep believing that everything is going to work out for the best. With so much attention required to manage so many variables, some of which we have control over and some we donít, itís hard to keep tabs on it all. The potential for conflict is always there in the background because we get tired and strung out and itís not always easy to maintain the level of vigilance required. Things will become more demanding before they get better and while we're feeling annoyed and bothered right now we need to keep the bigger picture in mind.
ďYouíll be so bored!Ē she says, and maybe sheís right. Sheís known me a long time; indeed, she knows me better than anyone, save for one. But even if sheís right, I can do boredom. Boredom is good. Boredom will make a nice change. Boredom gets a bad press these days. Boredomís not so bad. Come to think of it there are many different kinds of boredom. I could argue that Iím bored already. What used to challenge and engage me has itself become boring. Anyway, I donít think sheís right. I reckon it'll be just what the doctor ordered.
The contrast between the two couldnít be more extreme. It will be quite surreal, like going back in time. Itís an environment in which I felt very at home, unlike the environment I found myself in here which left me feeling shell-shocked. I rose to the challenge and succeeded where others had failed but I donít think Iíve ever felt completely at ease. I wouldnít trade the experience for anything. Itís made me a better professional and a better person but I know that when I sign out for the last time it will be without a shred of regret.
Space: itís something weíve had to compromise on for such a long time. Not that itís been a major issue but itís interesting to imagine all the space weíre going to have once the new house is built. We wonít know ourselves! Weíll have the luxury of doing things we simply canít do right now. Having guests stay with us will be a breeze. There will be space in which to set up a studio; space to sit and read or entertain - even a shop! But best of all, it will be a space weíve designed ourselves.
Wow, just imagine . . .
Iím back in the realm of imagining. Wild imaginings: now thereís an interesting term. What exactly constitutes Ďwild imaginingsí? Itís something I used to engage in a lot at one time. Wild imaginings about the great big world Ďout thereí when I was younger, before the world shrank and became so much smaller. In truth its size hasnít changed; Iíve simply extended my frame of reference. Thereís still so much I havenít seen and havenít done; things Iíll never get to see or do, but the things I have done were once the stuff of a young manís wild imaginings.
Imagination is what draws us into the future. Itís what distinguishes the active pursuit of something new from the passive acceptance of the passage of what is. Thereís nothing surer than time passes and before we know it we have more of it behind than before us, which can serve as either a blessing or a curse as we stare down the inevitability of our own inevitable demise. It seems to me the challenge is always and ever to use what time we have as imaginatively as we can. After all, we never know when itís going to run out.
When I was a young boy I used to try and imagine nothing. I would go through a list in my mind, methodically eliminating everything I knew until I found myself teetering on the brink of the unimaginable, after which I would become seized with horror as my young mind grappled with the enormity of such a concept. I would then try to frantically reel my mind back in again, clutching at every familiar thing I could think of in an effort to reassure myself that such an utter absence could never exist, but never quite succeeding in doing so.
Growing up in a big old Edwardian house I was acutely conscious of all the hidden dangers lurking around every corner, especially at night time. One in particular was the thing hiding under my bed. I don't think I ever really figured out what this thing was; only that it was powerless to get me as long as I remained in the middle of the bed. I would stretch out my arms in either direction to make sure I was as close to the middle as possible and then I would lie there feeling incredibly smug at having outwitted it.
Itís strange the way we tend to hang on to old animosities and resentments long after their expiry date, weaving them into stories which we then use to perpetuate an often erroneous or outdated belief that may bear little or no relationship to the facts. Conversely, to be able to recognise and acknowledge that people can and do change can come as something of a revelation. What it allows for is a renewal of faith in the ability of people, including ourselves, to grow beyond the narrow confines of what once was and to emerge more fully human and aware.
This is something I hadnít anticipated. I was prepared for things to be civil but I hadnít reckoned on things actually being so warm and genuinely heartfelt. To say I am delighted would be an understatement. He is my namesake after all. It begs the question of whether we could have arrived at this earlier or under different circumstances. Possibly, but there can be no denying that as timing goes, it couldnít be better. Similarly so, the circumstances. What it signifies is the healing of a breach, partly real and partly imagined, and one that is certainly no longer necessary.
For as long as I can recall I have felt the weight of his disapproval. It has been woven into the fabric of my life and referred to on more occasions than I care to remember. So if anyone had suggested we would be celebrating our 17th anniversary with he and my sister I would never have believed it, yet that is precisely what happened. And what an enjoyable evening it was! Over the past three days and against all expectations we have become not just friends but good friends. So who knows, maybe hell will freeze over after all.
I love a bank holiday weekend, even if it does fall during my week off. Itís a time for us to spend together, which given the looming period apart is to be more highly valued than usual. This particular weekend is a significant one. Itís the one where we finally have to decide what gets thrown away and what remains. Next week our home here in London goes on the market. Soon total strangers will be wandering through these rooms and trying to decide whether their future lies within these walls. We can only hope they like what they see.
Thereís something quite liberating about throwing stuff out. Itís remarkable how much we accumulate; books weíre sure weíre going to read but donít; folders stuffed with old bills and bank statements; clothes that looked good in the shop but which we never wear and the mostly forgotten boxes of old electrical goods made redundant by successive waves of technological innovation. The more I part with the easier it gets until I have to guard against the temptation to go Buddhist and get rid of the lot, which would merely serve to get me into incalculable trouble with my significant other.
After labouring virtually non-stop from dawn until dusk the task is all but complete. Our home has never looked so good, nor so tidy. Itís been transformed from a cosy depository of worldly goods into the clean, minimalist statement I always suspected was hiding somewhere beneath the sheer weight of stuff. Mind you, looks can be deceiving. It wouldnít do to look too closely behind the cupboard doors in the kitchen or the tall mirror doors in the bedroom. Itís been said that oneís home never looks as good as when itís about to be sold. Well, theyíre not wrong.
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