Life Lens

Currently listening to “Lord of the Dance” by Cu Chulainn.

When I was a kid, it seemed that everything was a potential story. I could look at a cloud and see a unicorn or a dolphin take form in the rise and fall of the billowing white. I could drag a little wagon in circles around my grandparents’ house and imagine I was travelling the Oregon Trail. I could even pick up a couple of sticks and imagine that they were antlers that belonged to super magical talking deer. (Yeah, I was a special child…). Back then, there was nothing that seemed too silly…except for my older cousin’s logic, but more on that another day.

Over the last few days I’ve done several posts mulling over my recent inability to compel myself to write. There are a lot of factors that can affect a person’s ability to think creatively, and often more than one reason is the culprit. But overall, I’d say life in general is to blame.

Having been in love with writing since my earliest years, I must say that seeing myself slip away from my creative way of thinking has been both frightening and depressing to me. Instead of seeing unicorns and dolphins when I look up at a cloud now, I see visibly condensed moisture. No matter how hard I try, those dolphins and unicorns never take form for me. When I try to daydream, I rarely get very far before my mind tells me, “That’s illogical. That could never happen because of X, Y, and Z.” And eventually, I stop coming up with new material, because all I can see is the most basic and realistic version of what is in front of me.

I was thinking about this earlier today as I went with the youth group I help lead to a lake clean-up out on Lake Travis here in Austin, TX. We arrived early, while it was still relatively cool, (Texas version of cool, mind you), and then set out to comb the lakeshore for trash needing to be picked up.

About halfway into our cleanup, my group and I came across this.

On first glance, it was fairly obvious what this was: a boat that had gotten a bad leak in it and had subsequently been abandoned. I glanced at it and thought, “Well, that’s depressing,” before setting off after the rest of the group. Several feet away, though, I paused.

“Actually, that’s kinda cool,” I thought. “Maybe I’ll take a picture before I keep going.”

I fished around in my bag for my phone to take a picture, and as I began to position the image in my screen, I thought, “What if I used a lens filter? I wonder what this would look like then.”

And that’s when it hit me. To write well is to filter the world through a mental lens.

They say that everyone has a story to tell. It’s just that not everyone is able to filter that story through the lens of inspiration. I think children are able to filter their world more easily than those of us who have lived through years of disappointment, hurt, and struggle. Some writers never lose that sense of wonder, constantly filtering their struggles through a lens of what could be. I admire people like that.

For my part, I was raised in a family where you had to think realistically. Every choice I made came with a litany of questions of why I made the choice and a lecture on why or how I could have done better if I had been more realistic/done something differently. I think there is a very real and necessary place for realistic thinking, but when it becomes the focus, eventually the creative lens gets smudged and it becomes increasingly more difficult to see the world as anything more than a dreary panorama of cold, hard facts.

And so my conclusion on this thought? For those of us who may have been losing our creative way due to all the realistic thinking, it’s about time we take another look at life. That abandoned boat can either be just that – an abandoned machine – or it can be the mysterious and forlorn opening to a mystery of the lonely boat tied to the shoreline, waiting for a master that will never return. It’s all in how you look at it. Also, don’t be afraid every once in a while to tell your brain, “I don’t care if it can happen in the real world. It can, and will, happen in mine.”

I think it’s about time we reclaim that missing lens, before it shatters and ends up gone forever.


One thought on “Life Lens

  1. Ah yes, the harsh reality that, uh, harsh reality is your biggest hindrance to a successful writing life. There will always be reasons not to write. And there will always be days when you have no motivation to write. The challenge is to find the will in yourself to write anyway. Reality can bite big time, especially if you embrace it too tightly. Just don’t get to the end of your life and wish you had lived your life another way.

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