[I see that YouTube has removed this video for whatever reason, so please refer to this post’s comment sections for a transcript of Will Smith’s monologue in the film Six Degrees of Separation.]
It only took me about 15 years to finally view the film Six Degrees of Separation for the first time last night. What an evening of captivation that made for…you could say it quite captured my imagination. As far as what “imagination” itself is, the film (an adaptation of John Guare’s stage play of same name) is frank in its perspectives on the concept in the above scene, which gives me pause to reflect on how this can apply to one’s writing.
“The imagination has been so debased that the imagination…being imaginative, rather than being the linchpin of our existence, now stands as a synonym for something outside ourselves.”
To many, “fiction” and “creative writing” may connote creating new, original worlds comprised of new, original creatures that lift us out of our reality. Admittedly, I often characterize my choice of reading fiction over nonfiction as my “escape” from my everyday. Yet, to be fair, my disbelief can only be suspended so far—at some point, I need to be able to see something recognizable within the text if I am to relate to it and learn from it and thereby stay engaged with it.
I remember making a pop-up book for a grad school assignment (yes, grad as in graduate school, not grade school!) that asked us to create a visual representation of our “reading life.” I fashioned my book such that, with every turn of the page, a different symbol would pop up (that’s no easy feat to engineer, by the way…it took ages) that depicted one particular function reading serves in my life. Among other things, I had an airplane to represent that idea of escape, a telescope for seeing beyond my immediate frame of reference, and a staff of music notes for the musicality or harmony books can provide through their themes or lyrical style. And yet…
“Why has imagination become a synonym for style? I believe the imagination is the passport that we create to help take us into the real world. I believe the imagination is merely another phrase for what is most uniquely us.”
One symbol I also distinctly recall inserting into the pages of my pop-up book was a mirror. As I explained to my peers during my presentation, reading is a way of holding a mirror in front of myself because it may either convey or conflict with my perspectives, and in that confrontation, there is reflection, be it validating my beliefs or modifying them through the acquisition of new knowledge or ways of thinking. It tells me something about myself, and I in turn form my interpretations of plot, character, etc. in terms of what I know from my own life experience and attitudes. And while I’m certainly infusing certain personal meaning into what I write, I do hope that it strikes a chord with other readers’ lives such that they derive their own meaning.
I’ve felt the sting of insecurity before over incorporating aspects that are true to my life in my stories, as though that meant I was being unoriginal—after all, if I am truly creative, shouldn’t it all stem purely out of my imagination? Consolingly, I have since reached understanding that it’s actually the moment we stop seeing ourselves in our writing that we’ve stopped being imaginative.
“I am this book. This book means everything to me. It is pure me, […] easily the most personal thing I am able to share with you.”
I think when it’s all said and done, whether we get published or not, we should all be able to feel this way about what we’ve written. So, in closing, I offer you this line from the film:
“To face ourselves – that’s the hard thing. The imagination…that’s God’s gift to make the act of self-examination bearable.”
As writers, to what extent are our stories a means of self-examination? Where do you see yourself in your characters, your truths in their “fictitious” circumstances and dialogue? Do you find that the writing process is therapeutic in making your analysis of self “bearable”? Might it do the same for your readers?