“Imagination is for poor people.”
The scene: a class field trip to Windsor Castle in Windsor, England. Context: a dollhouse formerly owned by an English monarch. The dollhouse, or more specifically, the doll-mansion, cost more money than my house and would be a far nicer and more spacious place to live. One of my classmates mentioned that such elaborate ornamentation negated the need for imagination, at which I retorted the aforementioned one-liner. And while I meant it, I said it largely because the classmate’s unceasing commentary had begun to grate on my nerves, and I would have given my right eyeball, along with whatever is keeping it in my head, to get the boy to shut up.
I didn’t realize the effect of my flippant statement until this past weekend, when I saw my quote penned on another of my classmates’ hand. He had written it there when I first said it, and then rewrote it on his hand. I know I’m witty, but I thought that was a bit peculiar, and I questioned his motives and lack of access to paper. While I never learned the latter part, he did say that he found the political implications of those five words thought-provoking.
I have never, in my entire life, been accused of provoking thoughts in anyone, so I simply assumed my friend wanted to get in my pants. Now, if you’ve seen the unfortunate headshot next to my byline, you can see why my leap of logic is patently absurd (That’s a great turn of phrase, “patently absurd.” The first five people who e-mail me with the origins of that phrase — true or false — will get a postcard from London.). I am not an attractive person by any stretch of the imagination — well, maybe an Olympic-sized, Tim Burton-esque stretch of the imagination, but I digress.
The thing is, imagination IS for poor people. It’s God’s (or evolution’s) ultimate blessing and curse on mankind. The ability to imagine something better, something worse, hell, something other than what we can see right in front of us. But imagination isn’t necessary once you have enough money. You can pay people to imagine for you. You can hire a creative team. You don’t have to waste time dreaming anymore because you have your dreams and those dreams are collecting more dreamy interest in the Caymans.
That’s why you have such radically different people at Yale. You have the people who are currently dreaming, but expect to someday get what they want and be done with it (a.k.a. filthy stinking rich). They want to secure happiness in the forms of money, landed property and a regular sexual partner. And then there are others of us who will never really be fully content and don’t particularly want to be. We’re too hung up on the imagining; we’d love to be your creative team. We’re addicted to the striving, and we’ll pay to keep on keeping on. We’re the ones who journey without a destination, and if we accidentally get somewhere, we immediately pick up and leave.
From my choice of pronoun you can probably tell I position myself in the latter group. I honestly couldn’t say which is better: to be happy or unhappy, fulfilled or unfulfilled, or if such a division is as simple as all that. But I think I would honestly prefer to be unhappy. To elaborate — I recently went to the Tate Modern to see the Donald Judd and Constantin Brancusi exhibit. I disliked the Brancusi and found the geometrical Lego-like constructs of Judd much more comforting. But the best part of the Modern is Olafur Eliasson’s “weather experiment.” Eliasson installed a semicircular giant glowing yellow THING, together with an atrium-long ceiling mirror, to create the illusion of a shimmering mini-Sun with a eerie power that overwhelms the viewer — much like looking at the real sun too long, sans the whole blindness consequence. People go to the Tate to mini-Sun bathe in the freaky light — everyone’s faces go the color of Benicio del Toro in heavily goldenrod-filtered Traffic. It’s the sort of scene in which you’d expect to have the Red Hot Chili Peppers playing in the background. And I think it represents discontent with the world and why that discontent keeps humanity going. Progress only leads to problems, but stagnation leads to death much faster. And if we can’t lasso the sun or find a way to make it appear more often in perpetually cloudy Londontown, we can put a faux one inside a museum, visit it for free, and get a tan without worrying about skin cancer. If you were rich, you would never go to a museum to get a tan. It would never occur to you. Imagination is for poor people. It’s all we care to afford.
Katherine Stevens is like Georgia — always on my mind.