Tag Archive: imagination


an austere beauty

skyscraper

Photo Credit: Vera Kratochvil; Licence: Public Domain

Nature has the power to humble us. As much as the ravages of natural disasters are tragic, they also remind us that we do not own this planet, we will never overcome it, and our abuses will never go unpunished.  But there is also something astounding in the ingenuity of human achievement.  The universe gives us gravity; humanity responds with bridges, towering skyscrapers, and planes.  Process the concept of taking an 85 metric tonne hunk of metal and getting it to lift off the ground and fly it at speeds over 500 mph at 30,000-40,000 ft. If that doesn’t take your breath away, few things will.

I love nature and, if my life ambitions can be boiled down to a select few, moving further away from cities would be high on the list.  But I love the culture one finds it cities too and so I am drawn to them as well.  Let me find a place to live surrounded with trees and lakes and rivers, with mesmerizing sunrises and sunsets, with immense mountains and enchanted vistas, but let me be close enough to the city to see the marvels that one finds there.

While attending a conference for work this past weekend, I was simultaneously appalled at the dearth of green space and in awe of the vast network of towering monuments to human achievement.  It is not that I think skyscrapers and overlapping overpasses are the greatest testament to what humanity has accomplished.  The growth of compassion and philanthropy would be more valuable evidence.  But, regardless of your personal beliefs, humans were in some sense delivered into the world innocent, ignorant, and naive.  With observation they learned, with creativity they explained, with tenacity they tested, and with ingenuity they created.  They created the wheel, and bridges, and buildings, and music, and medicine, and trains, and cars, and planes, and transistors, and microchips, and… and then they took it a step further.  They didn’t just build something practical: they created art.  Engineers fought physics, architects made it aesthetic; scientists produced technology, designers made it alluring.  There is a beauty in that.  Sometimes it is an austere, cold beauty, but it is a beauty nevertheless.

Today, I am thankful for human ingenuity.  It has sometimes led to terrible outcomes, but overall our world is an incredible place to live simply because of the power of the human mind to evolve the most fantastical idea into reality.

on top of the world

Everest

Photo Credit: Bernard Goldbach; Licence: Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic

Even as a child, I found my brain lacked focus in the first hour after waking.  The experience has become more prominent with age.  To say it “lacks focus” sounds negative, but I don’t intend it to be.  If I am trying to focus on a task at work, having a mind that wanders can be a bad thing.  But a wandering mind is essential to originality.  Or, to drag an old cliche out of the closet and beat it like a rug: wandering minds “think outside of the box,” and it is outside of the box that all the messy, nebulous plasma of creativity lies.

My wandering mind brings me inspiration for writing, for new approaches to troublesome problems, for new website ideas, for new directions to take in life, for… the list is endless.  Other times, I find myself reliving memorable experiences, some of them moments when I acted shamefully, and others which are a source of pride or joy.

The other day, lying awake in bed in the first warming moments of dawn, waiting for the house to come to life, a memory popped into my head.

Time for a juicy confession: when I was in high school, I was a Latin geek.  (Okay, so it’s not the type of thing you’ll see splashed across the tabloids, but I needed to say the confession was juicy to keep you reading.  I initially titled this post “Latin geek,” but figured no one would stick around to read it).  I know you’re picturing a pale, waif of a youth, with a perpetual runny nose, ill-fitting clothes, and no social skills and — well, you’d be partially correct.  It’s rare nowadays to find a school that even offers Latin for study, much less one where it’s the best class in the school.  My Latin class was extremely engaging, owing largely to a phenomenal teacher — Margaret-Anne Gillis — who has almost single-handedly resuscitated the stone-cold language and spent most of her career spreading the word that rumours of Latin’s death have been greatly exaggerated.

Once, in senior Latin, we were assigned a passage of poetry to be performed by each student in front of the class.  Like much of classical poetry, the passage was in dactylic hexameter.  Dacta-what?  Look it up on Wikipedia.

On the date of performance, the teacher cycled through the class.  Like any subject, different students expended varying levels of effort.  Some stumbled through the passage, pronouncing barely any of the words correctly; others, pronounced the words correctly but with limited expression; a few had expression but did not follow the meter; others followed the meter, but spoke in a monotone.

I was the last performer, and I had practiced the hell out of this passage of poetry.  Not only had I carefully practiced each word to ensure I said it correctly and clearly, but I read it according the meter, and delivered it all in a dramatic voice.  And, despite many of my practice runs, when I had stumbled over parts of the passage, I said it all without a single error.

When I was finished, the entire class erupted in applause.

Today, I am thankful for the few occasions in life when we feel like we are on top of the world.  Remembering this event the other morning, I found a smile spreading across my face.  Most of us spend our lives as one person among billions, nameless and faceless and insignificant.  But once in a while, we do something that stands out, and a few people take notice.  Maybe the course of history isn’t affected, maybe it doesn’t change the world… but it changes us.

Have you had a moment where you shined?  Please tell me about it in the Comments.

intangible pleasures

Coffee Cream

Photo Credit: Krishna; Licence: Public Domain

On Monday, I wrote about my youngest son’s inexhaustible fascination with throwing leaves into the river rapids.  On Tuesday, I talked about the simple delight of flowers.

Writing about these things got me thinking about simple but intangible pleasures in my life: impalpable experiences that give me a brief burst of delight, but which might go unnoticed.  So, today, I started compiling a list. It’s only 3-long so far but I hope to add to it over time.  There is no intrinsic reason why these things should bring me pleasure.  They just do. I don’t even want to analyze it.  Here’s the list:

  1. cream in my coffee: I love watching cream as it is poured into coffee. The way the cream folds into the rich, dark liquid, sinking first to the bottom, and then funneling up the sides in an upside-down mushroom shape.
  2. warmth in the centre of frigidity: have you ever been stuck outside in the dead of winter, with a frigid breeze sucking away all of your body’s warmth. Then suddenly the breeze dies down for a few seconds and it happens right when the sun is shining directly on you?  I love that.
  3. the secret chord: “I heard there was a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord” — so goes the Leonard Cohen song.  Every once in a while, there is a progression in a musical piece to which I am listening that just blows my mind and fills my chest with excitement.

Today, I am thankful for intangible pleasures.

What are some of your intangible pleasures?  Tell me about them in the Comments.

sunflower

Our family travels a lot.  A lot.  Particularly in the summer.  And this summer we travelled even more than usual.  The vehicle we use for trips is a few hundred clicks away from the next oil change. Our third since the beginning of June.

Perhaps its a product of travelling more, or simply indicative of a change in my perceptions, or maybe they’re just becoming more popular, but everywhere I go, I see sunflowers.

I’m not complaining, of course.  Machismo be damned: I adore flowers.  I especially love wild flowers, and daisies are my favourite.  Look at a daisy and try to tell me you don’t feel happier.  I won’t believe you.  (Unless you have severe allergies, in which case I will most certainly believe you, but suggest that you try looking at the daisy while safely protected behind glass).  Sunflowers are just enormous daisies, so happiness can only be multiplied.

field of sunflowers

Photo Credit: Bruce Fritz; Licence: Public Domain

There is something almost fantastical about sunflowers.  Walking beside a flower that towers above me makes me feel as if I’ve climbed a magical bean stock and entered a land of giants, or climbed through a looking glass into a Carrollian dreamland.  Adventure must be only right around the corner.

Today, I am thankful for sunflowers, and flowers in general.  They are such a simple pleasure in our world: free to look at, free to enjoy.  Obviously, they serve a vital purpose in keeping the planet alive, but their beauty can be enjoyed by everyone without anything asked in return.  Next time I think of some material good I “need” to be happy, let me remember the sunflowers.

now

My parents rented a cabin last week and took our kids with them.  Situated near the Haliburton Highlands, a gorgeous stretch of lush forests and sapphire lakes, the cabin placed them at a jumping off point for a variety of outdoor recreational opportunities.  Hiking, swimming, canoeing, picnicking — the kids had a great and memorable time.

My wife and I visited on Friday to spend the weekend there, and we learned that one of our youngest’s favourite activities all week long had been to go down to the river running beside the cabin and throw leaves in the rapids.  These are the sort of simple pleasures never fully appreciated by anyone much older than about four.  There were untold delights in the sweep of leaves through the current, moving slow at first, then rushing through the tiny waterfalls and gliding out into the wide river, destination unknown.

On Saturday, we drove to Bonnechere Caves, a series of subterranean paths irresistible to anyone with a sense of adventure – young or old.  Right before we headed out, I was down at the river with Zachary and my father, me snapping photographs and my father keeping Zachary supplied with leaves.  When we told Zachary it was time to go, he protested, and he continued to do so even when we explained that we would be exploring caves and tried to tempt him with all the wonders that activity would surely hold.  It would certainly be much better than throwing leaves in the water.

No dice: the kid was immovable.

leaves in water

Photo Credit: Jon Sullivan; Licence: Public Domain

We ended up getting him into the car, and had a great day at the caves.  Later, it occurred to me that I was a bit envious of Zachary.   I spend about a third of my life sleeping, and probably spend about 98% of the remaining two thirds focused not on what I am doing in the moment, but instead preoccupied with what I hope to be doing later (whether 10 minutes or 10 years later), or dreading some unpleasant thing I know I’ll have to do later.  It is a rare occasion indeed when I am able to appreciate “the now.”

Today, I am thankful for now.  This very moment.  The sun is shining down in patches on my freckled hands through an original wrought iron window in our 120 year old home.  Zachary is playing with a water table in a corner of our foyer, getting most of the water on himself and on the floor, but enjoying himself immensely.  Gregory is watching a show on his computer, earbuds in his ears.  Sandra has disappeared to the basement.  The room is quiet except for the sound of Zachary pouring water, the hum of Gregory’s computer, and the click of my keyboard.

This moment — this specific moment — is pure and discrete.  It’s a very rare gift — no one in the world can experience it from my perspective; it has never happened before, and it will never happen again.  It’s the only moment like it in the whole universe.

silence

A little over a year ago, we had our lawn dug up and new sod installed.  The work was completed right before a six-week period of pitifully little rainfall that led to my having to sprinkler the lawn for a couple of hours each night to keep the grass alive long enough to take root.  I was conflicted between guilt for the excessive water use and agony at seeing an expensive investment literally wither before my eyes.

One night, I was too exhausted to stay up to shut off the water, so I turned it off and put the sprinkler on first thing the next morning before the heat of the day would evaporate the water.

As I got ready for work, I noticed that the kids were not underfoot.  This was odd then, but is an even odder occurrence now.  Their sibling rivalry is of a variety that usually starts out well, with the boys playing nicely but boisterously.  It is not long, however, before one of them accidentally gets hurt, believes it to have been intentional, retaliates, and the next thing I know, they’re screaming at each other.

But that morning it was dead quiet, and had been for at least 20 minutes.  Concerned, I went to see what they were up to and found them both in my oldest’s bedroom.

The sprinkler was positioned in the front lawn outside the bedroom window, and the boys would catch a glimpse of the sprinkler as it rose in the air, before it disappeared.  The boys found it so mesmerizing that they had sat at the window for 20 minutes watching the water appear and disappear, all the while quietly whispering to each other about… something impenetrable by adults, I’m sure.

I was touched and snapped a photograph of the moment:

boys at the window

Photo Credit: (c) J. Matthew Lake

Today, I am thankful for the moments of silence that sometimes descend upon our house when the boys are wrapped in one of the many magical moments of childhood, when their imaginations allow something as simple as a sprinkler to become filled with mystery.

imagine

While driving between office sites last week, I got my “daily smile” when I saw a mom walking with her two daughters, whose faces were peaking out of square openings cut into cardboard boxes.  The cardboard boxes were unremarkable: no glittery paint, no accordion tubes encirling their arms. In fact, now that I recall it, the boxes didn’t even have holes for the girls’ arms.  Most conspicuous were the enormous grins on the girls’ faces, and the joyful — albeit somewhat embarrassed — grin on their mother’s face.

imagine

Rainbow over Knoicknara. Photo Credit: Jon Sullivan. Licence: Public Domain.

It’s my guess that the girls were pretending to be robots, though the expansiveness of a child’s imagination is such that, really, they could have been pretending to be just about anything.  And something tells me that they weren’t doing this because they were going to a costume party or some sort of event.  Had they been, I’m sure they would have put more effort into decorating their costumes.  I’m willing to bet that they just stumbled across cardboard boxes and decided to be robots for the day.

I’m 30, which most consider still young, but many days childhood feels to me like a distant memory. I have very little hair left on my head, and my once vivid blue eyes have faded a bit. I have considerably less energy than I used to and, lately, it seems to be a great deal harder to get up off the floor from playing with my son. But I’m not so old that I can’t remember the hours of fun I could distill from a cardboard box when I was a kid. The simplest things were imbued with infinite possibilities.

As we age, some imagination stays with us but, as J. M. Barrie wrote, “all children, except one, grow up.”   That might be a tad too low of an estimate — I think there are a few lucky ones whose capacity for imagination never wanes, and an even fewer clever or talented ones who manage to make a living from it — but the general idea remains true: our society is woefully intolerant of those who live with their heads in the clouds.

Today, I am thankful for imagination, that gracious element that instills life with a little bit more sweetness.  And I am thankful, too, for people like the girls’ mother, who foster it in others. There is no way of knowing for sure, of course, but it could be fairly argued that humans are the only animal on the planet with an ability to imagine, and that makes it a rare and marvelous gift, worthy of gratitude.

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