Wednesday, February 28, 2007

What the world needs now is… imagination!

Quite a few decades ago Jackie DeShannon made famous a song penned by Hal David, with music by Burt Bacharach – “What the World Needs Now”.

Go ahead, sing it with me – “What the world needs now, is love sweet love, it's the only thing, that there's just too little of…” Who could disagree with that? I surely couldn’t. But – and forgive me for doing this – I want to change the lyrics for a moment. Ready? “What the world needs now, is imagination…” Sacrilege you say? Well, let me explain.

A couple of years ago, a friend of mine who teaches at Georgia College and State University invited me to come to her class to speak about and lead a discussion on Flannery O’Connor. Coincidentally, about that same time I was developing some thoughts on “imagination”. When I began my presentation to the class, I began by talking about imagination instead of Flannery O’Connor. I think my friend (the teacher) was a little stunned, until she realized where I was going with my thoughts. Let me share with you briefly how the subject of imagination came to me, and how my thoughts developed.

One long-running program on C-SPAN was Booknotes. In each episode Brian Lamb would interview a significant author, and the January 4, 2004, episode featured Brenda Wineapple discussing her book Hawthorne: A Life (a biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne). One of Hawthorne’s best friends was Franklin Pierce, the 14th president of the United States, who was an adamant proponent of the institution of slavery. Lamb asked about Pierce, “Why was he pro-slavery?” To which part of Wineapple’s response was:

“Why was he pro-slavery in that way? I think because he lacked the imagination to think of what it really is to be a slave. You know, I mean, I think it was a real failure – it’s a failure of moral nerve and it’s a failure of imagination that comes to Pierce that he didn’t bother to think about it. He never got beyond the rule of law. So it wasn’t real to him.”

Ah… a failure of imagination.

About the same time, I read an interview in Sojourners magazine with author Wendell Berry. Addressing how separate local regions interact without becoming isolationist, he brought up the topic of imagination in a similar context:

“The serious question is whether you’re going to become a warrior community and live by piracy, by taking what you need from other people. I think the only antidote to that is imagination. You have to develop your imagination to the point that permits sympathy to happen. You have to be able to imagine lives that are not yours or the lives of your loved ones or the lives of your neighbors.” (Sojourners, July 2004)

What does this have to do with Flannery O’Connor, or any other serious fiction writer for that matter? Everything! Without imagination we cannot empathize; we cannot feel what other people, particularly people different from ourselves, feel. We are trapped in the narrowness of our own flesh, of the self-centered and preoccupied experience of our microscopic arena of existence, and there is no hope that we can become anything more or better. Imagination is the gift that allows us to break free from our shackles, to become truly human, truly real beings.

In this context, imagination is not an escape from reality; it is entering into the fullness of reality. The most significant thing about art, literature, and music is the contribution they make to our imagination. Art does not supersede the thoroughly practical existence; it brings the practical into its stunning fulness. As an example of this, I offer my father’s contention that my interest in growing flowers was a waste of time and effort. “You can’t eat a flower,” he said. Therefore, to him, it was useless. I replied, “If there were no flowers, there would be no reason to eat, no reason to exist. And even the beans and squash in the vegetable garden begin as flowers.” As the Bible says, we human beings “do not live by bread alone…” Or in another place, “where there is no vision, the people perish.” I could paraphrase with no loss of meaning, “Where there is no imagination, the people cannot live.”

In summary:
(1) Imagination is not an extraneous and frivolous part of our being – it is vital.
(2) Not only should imagination be encouraged, it should be nurtured in a positive way. That alone is justification for literature and the arts.

In the midst of war and terrorism, possibly more than ever, what the world needs now is… imagination. Hence, I invite you – come, imagine with me!

Saturday, February 24, 2007

The Wayback Machine - On Color

From my journal, dated Wednesday, March 16, 2005:

There is an article in the New York Times about a blue lobster. Lobsters have a combination of red and blue pigments which give them camouflage on the ocean floor. The red color is from the astaxanthin molecule, a relative of beta carotene, the chemical that gives carrots their orange color. The blue color comes from crustacyanin (astaxanthin clumped together with a protein). According to the article, one in a million lobsters is blue. One theory is that the protein pulls the astaxanthin molecules close together, and the change in the orbits of electrons causes the absortion of red light.

Color – what an amazing thing it is. I studied color in psychology courses in college, from the physical causes represented by wave frequencies to absorption and reflection, to the biological mechanisms in the eye and brain that are responsible for color perception. There is also an aesthetic dimension to color. Colors give expression to emotions and add to the drama of works of art.

I am fascinated by the concept of color. What is absorption and why does it happen? What is reflection? What are complementary colors, and what makes them so? There are so many questions that it is probably impossible to answer, but I love asking them and thinking about them. I suppose pondering unanswerable questions gives a deep satisfaction because of its very basis in mystery – like the mysterion in which we contemplate and discover God. Perhaps the essence of these unanswerable questions is ultimately part of God.

Friday, February 23, 2007

The Way-Back Machine

When I was a boy I didn’t miss an episode of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. If you’ve ever seen it, you know there was a regular segment called Peabody's Improbable History with Sherman and Mr. Peabody. Sherman was a redheaded boy with horn-rimmed glasses, so we instinctively recognize that he is the nerdy, bookish type. Mr. Peabody, who wore a similar pair of glasses, was a dog of superior intellect. No, he didn’t fetch Frisbees with his hind feet while balancing on his nose or tap out the square roots of integers with his paw – he spoke quite fluent English, and he invented things. His most amazing invention was The WABAC (way-back) Machine! Using this marvel to defy all principles of the space-time continuum, Sherman and Peabody would journey back to witness a different famous historical event each episode.

You’ll never believe this (don’t worry, I’m making it up anyway), but I found the original plans for the WABAC machine, and I’ve installed one here at the blog. From time to time we’ll journey back, not to famous historical events but to significant events recorded in my journals through the years. If you like, you can just call them flashbacks, but I prefer to imagine it as a trip in the WABAC. I will label those entries with “The Way-Back Machine”. Stay tuned…

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

CPAP. CPAP run. My First-Grade Level Ruminations on Sleep Apnea

Oh, the pain, the pain! Tonight I have a splitting headache, but that’s no reason not to write.

It began this morning, just that subtle feeling floating somewhere behind my forehead like a puddle of chocolate pudding shifting slowly around my frontal lobe with each movement of my head. I’m no stranger to headaches; I’ve been battling them for years. But the last couple of weeks have been different, because I found out my blood pressure – always the picture of textbook perfection – was suddenly trying out for a new job in entry level hypertension.

After I got to work this afternoon I was feeling awful, and a couple of folks told me I looked exhausted. One of the inmates said, "Mr. Bohannon, you better go to medical and get your blood pressure checked." Since they had been doing intake (of new prisoners) this morning, there were still a few nurses and a blood pressure machine in the back section of our building, which spared me a walk to medical.

Once securely fastened to the machine, the cuff pumped up and started measuring. When it stopped, instead of a number it pumped up again, tighter. I said to the nurse, "Uh oh. This isn't good." When it stopped, the warning alarm went off and scared me to death. Why do they make blood pressure machines that produce loud noises and flashing lights when your blood pressure is dangerously high? Don't they realize that makes it dangerously higher?

Anyway, my BP was 191/100! I immediately called Cris and asked her to call my doctor and told her she might have to come get me because I was a little unsteady. Impatient with waiting on word to be relayed from Cris to receptionist to nurse to doctor and back up the line to me, I eventually drove to Blandy Hills Elementary, where Cris works. We finally got word from Dr. Duke telling me to go to the ER (oh how those words brought joy to my heart...not).

My blood pressure was better in the ER, but still high, and since I had the excruciating headache and the skin on the right side of my face felt like it was crawling off, they took me back immediately. By this time my headache was excruciating.

The ER doctor was great! She talked with me, not to me. I'd previously been diagnosed with sleep apnea, and sleep studies showed I would have positive results with the CPAP machine. That’s a piece of equipment inspired by 1950's science fiction movies that has a hissing, knob-encrusted metal box that spews streams of air through a montage of flexy tubes capped with a tiny face mask and straps just the right size to traumatize the imagination of anybody prone to claustrophobia aggravated by anxiety attacks (like ME). She seemed to have a more positive view of CPAP therapy and insisted it would most likely make me feel lots better. She agrees with the other docs, each of whom I'd decided must have family connections to the CPAP industry, that my sleep apnea is largely behind my headaches and blood pressure problems, and re-affirmed my need to have a fresh sleep study. She said she's seen people on three different blood pressure medications go completely off meds after a couple of weeks with the CPAP machine. She said I probably don't even realize how bad I'm feeling (although, just between you and me, I've got a pretty darned good idea), and the CPAP would most likely make a world of difference. Sleep apnea deprives your brain of oxygen, and the brain doesn’t like to be deprived of oxygen anymore than I liked to be deprived of Apple-Cinnamon Pop Tarts at breakfast.

CT scans were ordered, blood was drawn, and a urine specimen collected (which, by the way, was still sitting on the table, untested, when I left the hospital). The CT scan indicated chronic sinus disease, but my brain looked fine. (Imagine that!) Finally, after the test results satisfied the doctor that I wasn’t having a stroke, nor did I have meningitis, and the fact that I didn’t remember when I had my last tetanus shot didn’t matter, she gave me a Lortab (7.5 mg) -- I didn't want a knock-out shot -- and a prescription for 15 more of the pills. Earlier she had given me a 50 mg Topral for the blood pressure, and it was down to 135/85 before I left. I have a prescription for that too, and a pack of Azithromycin (antibiotics) for sinus infection, just for good measure. She reiterated once again the need for this sleep study, so I guess I'll go ahead and set it up. She wants me to stay out of work for a couple of days. Fat chance! But if I do decide to stay home from work, I’ll be too scared to sleep. My brain needs the oxygen!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

A Friendly Introduction

I've finally gone and done it! I've started a blog. I've been journaling for a good couple of decades, and from time to time I like to share some of my entries with family or friends. I figure this way I can share it with everybody. Even if you're a stranger, I'm sure we could be friends if we got to know one another.

I’ve got lots of stories to tell, and there are plenty of subjects I’d like to reflect on. My interests include, but are not limited to, family, music, art, literature, airplanes, my Taylor guitar, books, philosophy, theology & religion, beautiful sunsets, mathematics, Spanish, and… well, I could go on for a day or two. You can figure it out as we go along.

Let me tell you a little about myself. I’m Jim Bohannon (no, not the one that’s on the radio), and I live in Milledgeville, Georgia, with my wife, Cris, and my two youngest sons. I have another son and a daughter who are both grown and married. My daughter gave birth to our first grandchild on January, 30th, and my son and his wife are expecting in July… so you can believe there will be some grandfather talk around here.

Milledgeville was the capital of Georgia during the Civil War, and the old capitol building and Governor’s Mansion have both been renovated recently. Milledgeville was the home of the writer Flannery O’Connor (another of my major interests). Andalusia, the O’Connor family farm, has recently been opened to the public. Film legend Oliver Hardy also lived here, before leaving to go into show business. This was also home to the Honorable Carl Vinson, longtime congressman and chairman of the House Armed Services Committee.

Over the years I’ve been a U.S. Marine, a college student, a process control supervisor with a kaolin company, and a pastor of United Methodist and non-denominational churches. I am currently employed as a teacher at a local state prison. Since I’m the only teacher, I like to tell people I am the entire education department. I handle literacy, adult basic education, GED preparation, and English as a second language. At the moment, I even have a student who is studying Spanish with me. Meanwhile, I am trying to establish a business as an artist – I’ll share more about that later. I’ve registered an Internet domain name and I’m trying to learn how to build a website, and I’ve established eBay and Pay Pal accounts, but I’m not quite ready for market yet.

There’s a lot I want to talk about and share with you. Don’t be surprised if I throw out an insight or opinion about politics or religion. You don’t have to agree with me. Even though I’m a former preacher, I don’t like to be preachy. Hopefully this will be a welcome place where you’ll feel you can come to be refreshed. I’ll be here, so ya’ll come around any time you feel like it.