mammogramI recently went to get my annual mammogram. An appointment, which necessitated that I exercised both my adult responsibility to maintaining my health as well as my ability to remain calm in the face of one of my worst nightmares. This particular nightmare had little to do with the actual appointment. Although, admittedly, having parts of your body squished and pressed isn’t fun.

Instead what mostly causes blood-curdling fear to course through my body is the imagined outcome, which is bad, very bad. Of course, I am sure that most women worry about their test results. I realize that, in that respect, I am not unique. However, where I am unparalleled is in my ability to take reasonable worry and quickly turn it into stomach-turning, heart-pounding terror. Why?

Because as a self-diagnosed hypochondriac with the superpower of keen self-awareness, the trip from rational concern to illogical panic is quick. What does this mean? It means that I not only notice the pin-sized mole on my back, I am instantly convinced it is melanoma and before I can make a dermatologist appointment, I have sketched out my funeral plans.

As an example, I was sure that this particular appointment would end badly. Did I say “sure”? I meant positive. I was positive it was cancer. Why? Did I find a lump? No. Did a doctor find something suspicious? No. It was just a feeling. I know. But after your eye roll, keep reading.

I am actually rather intuitive. Many times my gut instinct has not only led me in the right direction, it saved me. In addition, three vivid, disturbing dreams exacerbated my fears. So it was, in my mind, indisputable, inarguable, set, done. Cue the shallow breathing, alleviated blood pressure, racing mind.

Okay, now I can almost hear you groaning as you mutter, “What a drama queen.” But it truly isn’t about the drama. It isn’t even about the fear, not really. Instead it is about imagination and the boundless possibilities it allows.

An active imagination enabled me, as a child, to play outside for hours with no need for swing sets, toys, or constant parental entertainment. I could transform the woods behind my house into a jungle, sticks into horses, puddles into oceans.

But because imagination is limitless in the places that it can take an individual, it means that not all the places are happy and light, some are scary and dark. After all, the same imagination that enables a child to be a superhero also causes them to cower under the covers, hiding from the monster under the bed.

Of course, as people grow older and mature, imagination is curbed and sometimes (tragically) lost. Not so for a writer.

An active imagination is invaluable to a writer. In fact, a writer cannot exist without one. It is the inspiration, the foundation of our art. It is the ingredients in which we mix together our stories.

Imagination is how writers create worlds where none previously existed and tell stories that captivate the reader.

Imagination is also why writers can conceive of scenarios that many don’t consider.

As an example, most people seeing their front door slightly ajar, shrug, and think that they must have left it open. A writer seeing that same door can and will within fifteen seconds be convinced that the dodgy postman who stares too long has broken in and is now standing in the next room with a butcher knife.

So two days following my appointment the phone rang. It was the testing center. I picked up and as my hands shook and my breathing became so shallow I reached for a paper bag, I wondered whether my imagination was worth it. The nurse said efficiently and politely, “Your results are negative.”

Breathing again, I walked back to my computer and read the last line I wrote in my book before answering the phone. I smiled and thought, “Yes, an active imagination is worth it.”

Thank you for reading. I’m excited to hear what you think.

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About Sherry Parnell