Updated: Oct 15
I was rushing about the small kitchen of Turning Point: The Center for Healing and Hope, making coffee and putting fruit on trays, when an elderly man stopped his walker in front of me and said, “Are you the pretender?”
“For the poetry class.”
“Yes, I am,” I told him, realizing he meant “presenter” or maybe I just heard “pretender,” but in any case, I am the pretender. Some people are born to take to pretending like dogs take to trash bags, and I’m one of them. As a kid, I remember frequently running down my suburban block to the bus stop while deep in fantasy that I was rushing to the stage to accept my Oscar. “I want to thank the Academy, and especially all the little people — you know who you are — for making my dream come true,” I would announce.
Not surprisingly, my report cards often had two comments: “Caryn daydreams too much” and “Caryn could do better if she just tried harder.” I didn’t have time to try harder because I was daydreaming elaborate scenarios of publishing books, holding art shows, marrying the love of my life on a mountain top, and touring with my imaginary band, the Rootin’ Shootin’ Tootets (I was lead singer and lead tambourine-on-thigh banger).
Fast forward to now, and I make a living largely out of helping others pretend. “Trust yourself,” I always tell each writing class, and most of my students at Goddard too. “And if you don’t trust yourself, pretend you do until it’s true.” The only way to do what feels impossible to many of us is to suspend disbelief (e.g. pretend otherwise) so that we can make changes in ourselves that we couldn’t have fathomed otherwise.
Writing is an act of both daring and imagination channeled through moving fingers and held afloat by pretending it will amount to something (if not now, in time). I started this post thinking only of that scene in Turning Point without any idea of what I would be by this paragraph. I love what William Stafford says about words inventing words, and what Robert Frost points to about way leading to way. Whether I’m writing poetry, fiction, non-fiction, a blog post or a song, I put on my pretend hat, game for where imagination, luck, rhythm and voice will take me. Just like Emily Dickinson parodies — “Split the lark, and you’ll find the music” — I can’t get to where I don’t yet imagine by mapping it out ahead of time or taking apart what keeps the lark singing.
There’s something else I’ve learned which fuels all all I do: making stuff up and making things (out of words and other arts) is the fastest road and most scenic way to get to what is most worth knowing in life. Because by pretending — like invoking all the names of God on the basis that we can’t truly name such expansive mystery and grace — you can get closer to the fire of what’s real.