Eugene and Learning the Art of Imagination

Eugene is an approximately 30-year-old computer programmer from Russia who lives in New York City. We've written a few things in class. I would write a question and he would write an answer, things like that. This session took a different turn.

Eugene wanted some homework, so I put this prompt in our shared writing pad.

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Make a fictional story. Like a little fairytale.

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In our session this morning he said he tried writing a few sentences, and then erased them. He just couldn't come up with anything. My response, "Perfect. We can work on that then."

This is a common issue for people. They self-filter to such an extent that it limits their ability to produce. Now, Eugene is college-educated, he's a computer programmer, he knows two languages, and he's lived in two countries. He's a smart guy. And yet, the freedom of having such an open-ended option thwarted him.

I coached him through this session to just write whatever came next. Whatever popped into his mind. Luckily, I'm good at that, and I do well at demonstrating writing crazy things.

A few more quick observations before I show you what we wrote. And it is pretty wild.

Because English is his second language ideas will come to him that he could express in Russian, but not in English. That's normal in second language speakers. The same thing happens in your native language too. You can think of an idea on an enactive or symbolic level of understanding, and yet can't quite articulate it at the semantic level. (I've talked about that theory of knowledge in other articles.)

Also, writing is a combination of almost all language skills. You're not focusing on story structure, or style, or grammar, or spelling, or vocabulary, or syntax, or tense, or punctuation, etc. You're doing all of it at the same time. If you try to think about all of that at the same time you will get stuck. The human mind can't process that much information consciously. You have to let it flow from your unconscious. So, forget all of that for the moment. Write whatever happens to come into your mind. And then you can go back over it later. The point is not perfection, the point is progress.

As per usual, we alternated who was writing. I started, and this is what happened.

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Once upon a time, in a land on the other side of the river, there lived a little old granny. She wasn't a nice granny.
She had a secret. She had an ugly pet. It was a small dragon child.
They used to go for walks in the wood together. She would sing and the birds would fly near them. Then, the dragon child would lash out with his fiery tongue and eat them.
But it couldn't last long. Soon, people started noticing that there were no birds in the woods...
The king liked hunting for birds, and he was rather upset. He hired a consultant to come in and do a study on the local bird populations. The consultant delivered bad news.
"Sir, it is true that your woods have been depleted of birds, but it is not that they have left the royal wood, for there has been no increase in the bird populations of neighboring forests." said the consultant.
"Well then," said the king with a look of frustration drawing lines down his face, "where are my birds!?"
"As a consultant I could recommend sending a detective to the forest to investigate."
Three days later a hunter was walking through the forest when he noticed a body not far off of the trail. He checked the man's pockets for money. Someone had already taken it. But inside of his wallet he had an ID: Foul Investigative Agency Detective, Allen Schubert.
The hunter was a military veteran so he decided to do nothing about it, and just forget it. On his way back home he slipped and broke his back, and the ID he was carrying fell out of his pocket.
Little Johnny Walker was walking home from school, through the shortcut that his mother had warned him not to take, when he saw a man laying in the middle of the path. He checked the man's pockets and found seven dollars. Johnny started to leave, but out of the corner of his eye something in the grass flashed in the fading light of the setting sun. He picked up the ID and read: Foul Investigative Agency Detective, Allen Schubert.
So he took it, and went home. When he got there he pulled everything out of his pockets and put it on the table, and prepared to sleep. The door opened. A woman came in to say goodnight. The ID laying on the table drew her attention.

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The human brain is made for stories. It's a narrative organ. If you allow it to happen, a story will grow from any idea.

This session also demonstrates another important truth. If you can write good fiction, you can write anything else. But, just because you can write an essay or a letter does not mean you can write good fiction. The skills used in making fiction come alive are technically more complex. There are more options, almost an infinitude of options, and rarely simple answers.

Plus, fiction's more fun.

Double plus, stories contain deep truths about our personal and collective unconscious, and reveal the hidden recesses of the existential nature of the human soul.


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