Unimaginable is not a word in my vocabulary


When I was standing in line at the local coffee shop, I overheard a couple of people talking about something awful. That happens, certainly, it’s not unusual at all (I often stand in coffee shop lines). One of the women in the group, after hearing the full details of a plane crash, said, “That is just unimaginable. I could never imagine that happening to me.”

Those are fairly common things to say, and I understand the meanings of all of those words. I get where they are going with it, that they don’t think they would ever find themselves in that kind of situation.

I keep rolling those words around in my head though, and they still don’t make any sense.

“Unimaginable.” “I could never imagine that.”

I have to admit that I just don’t get it. Maybe it’s because I’ve been an artist for a long time, and a writer long before that. Really, my whole life has spun around the idea that I should be creative all of the time. So, when somebody says that they couldn’t imagine something, I’m at a loss.

In my head, during all of my waking moments, I’m imagining all kinds of scenarios. Some of them just let me get through my day, others are a bit stranger. For example, when I was standing in line at the coffee shop, I was also imagining a number of quite unrelated, somewhat fantastical things. The list of things going through my head at the time included visions of:

  • I wonder if Sandra Bullock and the Shenzou Capsule are going to make it.
  • There’s a great big tsunami out in the street, with zombies inside the wave.
  • What if I flub my lines when it’s my turn to order?
  • This woman’s hairstyle would be pretty cool to draw (and I see it in gray as a sketch in my head, and moving in three dimensions like a video).
  • All of the tables are upside down, and the cashier just did a Trinity-Matrix kick into that guy’s coffee cup.
  • Do I actually have $2.50 for this coffee, or do I have to use my gift card?
  • The plane is falling out of the sky, people coming out of it as it breaks up.

That’s a typical moment for me, especially if I’m just standing there waiting for something. The plane falling out of the sky is what the people were talking about, and I saw several visions of that while passively listening to them.

It’s not something I try to control, in fact it helps as a creator to have those things in my head. I do use music when working, to distract from too many things going on. Otherwise, I let the visions ride, hoping for a glimpse of something great.

But I’ve come to the realization that I am somewhat unique in the constant visions, that the general public doesn’t really have that kind of thing going on upstairs. I also think that’s why creators are who they are, because of that very word, “unimaginable”.

I know that the aforementioned woman probably meant that she doesn’t want to imagine it. There are lots of truly awful things in the world that no one should have to see or think about. But it doesn’t mean we can’t, and as creators we’re often stuck imagining visions of horror just as much as we see visions of beauty.

The artists, authors, filmmakers, and other creators that I’ve met just don’t seem to have that word, “unimaginable”, in their vocabulary either. The world to them isn’t just what they see, or touch, or even feel. The world becomes something else entirely, and every moment becomes a key to unlocking the fascinating imagination that rules over them.

I would bet that if I walked up to a creative person, and simply said something along the lines of, “that tree over there has something living at the top of it”, that their imagination would fire up so fast a spark might jump right out of their head.

I’m not saying they would all see the same vision. “Living at the top” to some could mean birds on the branches, or a bunch of small elf houses held together with string and silly putty, or even living cotton candy trying to work itself out of the branches on a windy day. A creative person might see all of those things at once in their head, and it could spark a wonderful new work.

The concept of “unimaginable” is alien to me, as it is to many people. I listen to those voices, I pay attention to those visions, and try to make sure that everything, fantasy or not, gets its time in the sun.

Now, it’s time to keep an eye on the zombie tsunami out the window, and hope I can still order the coffee without flubbing the lines. Wish me luck.

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