I was not sure where to post this, but this blog hasn’t gotten much love lately, so I figured I would post it here.
The idea for the post came to me as I was biking home. I always take the same route from work to my apartment in Palo Alto: down the Hill on Coyote, right on Page Mill, left on Hanover, through Standford campus and then six blocks of professor-housing. It’s not the world’s most exciting journey. But even though I’ve made it about forty times so far this summer, each time has been different. While my feet and hands and eyes are locked into a cycle of near-identical stimuli, my mind wanders without limit. This time, as I raced down the Hill on Coyote, the vast emptiness of farmland and highway around me made me think of gods, wandering landscapes of bubbling chaos, ready to burst into order at their beck and call. As I pushed up towards Hanover and saw Stanford Tower, my thoughts turned to Borges and his endless libraries. As I wound through campus and raced past young men and women hurrying home, I pondered the next chapters of my novel, where a green private in the Israeli army is fighting to the death with his lieutenant – inside a virtual world, their characters ripping each other to shreds with blade and magic.
Imagination is my escape from the bicycle ride. The ride is every single bit as important as the escape: it gives me the freedom to imagine. But without imagination, I would be seeing the same landscapes and buildings, listening to the same sounds day in and day out. I would be limited by my surroundings. Imagination helps me break these limits as though they weren’t there, and opens my mind to an infinite variety of experience. Letting your mind wander is a bit like walking through Borges’ library – there is no end to it, and you can easily get lost. But it does not mean it’s not worth doing: every trip opens new paths, and every path is like a miniature life, begging to be touched, felt, experienced. Instead of going on one ride, you go on infinitely many at once. Finally a few rides, a few errant thoughts latch on to your brain and become memories, insights. When you come home, you pick those insights up, and share them with others in your books, or your games, or your conversations. All of a sudden, your friends are taking infinitely many bike rides as well – and some of them have never even been on a bike!
This is a blog about writing, and recently we’ve all been talking (and writing) about why we write. I write to share my imagination with my audience, whether it’s as small as the other members of Substrate, or as big as the whole world. It’s been a big effort for me to bring my imagination down to earth, to tie my fantasies back to our lives, to our human joys and struggles, but in doing so I feel I get the biggest payoff for letting my imagination wander. It’s all too tempting for me to completely remove my stories from reality. I am happiest when, instead, my stories are threads that start in the real (to wit, a bicycle ride) and end in the completely fantastical (gods walking through roiling chaos), and nowhere does the transition feel forced or sudden. I haven’t been too successful at this approach yet, but I am working on it, and maybe, one of these days, I will get to the point where I can take my reader from bicycle rides to Borges in one smooth page-turner