That Thing We Call Inspiration

InspirationMuch has been thought, and written, and even researched about the nature of what we call “inspiration.”  My Oxford online dictionary defines it as “the process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.”  The second definition listed is: “the drawing in of breath; inhalation.”  What a magnificent concept.

Most writers have various little rituals and incantations we perform in order awaken the Muse.  Most of us also find that, however we may try, that crazy thing that we call inspiration, that deep inhalation of fresh, creative air, finds us at the most unexpected times.  Never did I imagine that, recovering from a total hip replacement surgery, an image would pop into my head, and I would know that it was the foundation of my next novel.

Here, then, is the beginning of what I have tentatively entitled “The Rocky Orchard:”

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orchard“What a strange place to put an orchard,” Mazie thought to herself.  Mazie stood at the exact spot on the wrap-around porch — the one that covered two full sides of the old farm house – where she could see the farthest in three different directions. “I never could figure out why there.”

There was not all that much to see to her left, as the stone path leading from the porch door was steep enough that you had to stoop down just a tad to see the old dirt road at the path’s end.  To her right sat the old shed, and the small, spring-fed lake her parents had dredged, and the wide expanse of field that abruptly ended at the edge of the thick woods.  In the spring, if you listened very carefully, you could hear the little creek that lay just beyond the farthest edge of the field, at the very beginning of the trail into the woods.  Full and ripe with the winter’s runoff, the freezing water tumbled over the rocks in rushing abandon.  You could hear it, even from such a distance, before it began its languishing journey from bursting its muddy banks, to flowing in a steady and patient stream, to trickling in ever-shifting paths between the mossy stones, to its eventual disappearance in the flush of summer.

Where Mazie came from, it was a point of contention whether the proper way to say the word was “creek” or “crick.”  Feelings ran strong about this.  Weekend people, people who did not live there full-time – like Mazie’s family – generally said “creek;” locals said “crick.”  But if you tried to say it like they did, to be nice when you were talking to them, they assumed you were making fun and immediately got quiet or mean.  It made Mazie tired to think about.

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Putting the FUN Back In…Fiction

PUSHING THE RIVER —  my third novel, set for release this October by Amika Press —  currently lay in the trusty and capable hands of their graphic designer/production person Sarah Koz.  If you are a writer yourself, and you are reading this, you know exactly what this means – that I am wandering around the various circles of Marketing Hell in a bleary daze, waffling between dutiful determination and dejected drudgery (and stooping to the lower depths of ill-advised alliteration).

How to bring the FUN back into writing – that has been the challenge I have posed to myself.  And as I cast around with the beginning of the beginning stages of Writing a New Novel, I have been “trying out” various characters, almost in the same way a director might audition actors.  Here follows a character who, out of the blue, inhabited me and began to tell his story:

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First time I was over at Bert’s place, he yelled at me right through the screen door.  “YO!” He yells, “come on IN.”  Didn’t get up or nothing, just hollered.  I was a little shook by that, to tell you the truth, cause all I could see was nothing – just like total blackness on the other side of the door, that’s how dark it was inside.  I sort of followed the sounds, the music and rustling and all, down this hall til I could make out Bert like some dim faraway spirit.

Bert was sitting in the nicest chair, meaning the one whose stuffing was sprouting out of big gashes in both arms, and had seat cushion that didn’t even fit in the frame any more – that’s how caddywhompus and old and tore up it was; still, it was a damn sight better than any other place to sit in the room.  Bert’s own dad, in fact, was sitting on the arm of what must have once been a couch.  I figured it was his dad, because I knew Bert lived with him and because the guy on the arm of the chair was a lot older than anybody we hung around with.  Anyway, Bert was sitting in the quote nicer chair, which I also thought was a little weird, because I mean, come on, it was his dad.

Once my eyes started to adjust to the near-darkness, I could make out that Bert was rolling a joint on his lap, using a greasy old magazine to hold his paraphernalia.  I looked at his dad, and back at Bert, and Bert looked up for the first time and seemed to register that I was there, also for the first time, in the middle of this living room, I guess it was, while he was rolling a joint and shooting the shit with his dad.

“Oh, hey,” Bert said.

Man, I have never before felt like a stick-up-my-ass, stick-in-the-mud conventional, conservative prick, but I’m suddenly feeling all disapproving.  Jesus, the one time my dad wanted to prove that he was as open-minded as the next guy, and to demonstrate it he was going to go get a marijuana cigarette that he’d been given by a friend ages before, and that he’d been keeping all of this time, and wouldn’t it be fun to get it right now, at Thanksgiving, and pass it around the table before dessert and coffee.  I thought I was going to seriously lose my shit, partly because, needless to say, I was already high due to spending Thanksgiving with the fam in the first place.  And when my aunt said, “Do we have to share the same one?  I really think I’d like my own,” then, really, that’s just a Twilight Zone-type situation you can only hope comes to a swift and relatively painless end.

So, yeah, I’m feeling kinda judgy of Bert for taking the best chair in the room and for rolling a doob right in front of his old man and not thinking a thing of it, and also feeling pissed at myself for feeling judgy in the first place, and like of jeez, who knew, turns out I’m just a regular old middle-class honky white boy right along with the rest of them.  So I’m kinda testy when I say to Bert, “I thought we were having a party here, man.”

“What do you think I’m doing here?” Bert says, holding up the doob, which is just about the size of one those small little cigars. “I’m getting ready!”  He says this with some element of triumph.  “Already mixed up the punch.”  He gestures towards the fridge, which is, in fact, not very far behind him in this same room.  “Grain alcohol and grape juice.”  And he adds, with a giant ass smile, “Ohhhh, yeahhhhhh!”

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My life according to me

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D-Day. June 6.

D-Day marks the anniversary of the Normandy landings during World War II. Twenty-four thousand U.S., British and Canadian troops landed on five separate beaches across a 50-mile-wide stretch of northern France. The largest seaborne invasion in history, the operation began the liberation of German-occupied northwestern Europe from Nazi control, and contributed to the Allied victory on the Western Front. But, “victory” took months, and Allied casualties numbered greater than 10,000, with more than 4,100 confirmed dead.

On the anniversary of D-Day this year, I officially outlived every member of my family of origin. I woke up to my 22,481st day, overtaking my father, who put his cigarette down and slid off his chair into a quick and peaceful death on his 22,480th day. I had long surpassed my mother (20,792 days) and my brother, the one most gypped of the additional days I so wish he could have seen (17,590 days).

I originally began this blog as a vehicle to post sections of my third novel as it was being written, and I titled it “My books My writing My life according to me.” With my third novel completed (at least I hope that it is completed. I would like it to be completed, not because I shirk from doing further work that might make it a better piece of fiction, but because I believe it accomplishes what I ardently wanted it to accomplish – to capture an instant in time. Altering it seems almost like doctoring pictures of the D-Day invasion. They may be more captivating, or graphic, or even more beautiful photographs, but that’s just not what happened); I am switching my blog more to the “My life according to me” thing. I have redesigned it!

Is this a grateful-to-be-alive every single day kind of blog? A bluebirds-on-both-shoulders-singing-in-my-ears sort of thing? Um, no. Well, partly. I chose the wonderful photograph above by Annemiek van der Kuil as the perfect “emblem” for this blog, as it mirrors the world that I see, where juxtapositions and ironies exist everywhere: a world that is at once beautiful and messy, where there is loneliness and separation as well as jubilant connection, peacefulness and chaos, profound pain, but always, always possibility.

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Oh. Dear. Procrastination.

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Who was it who said: writing is what one does when one has thoroughly exhausted all possible ways to procrastinate.

A couple of weeks back I had what I thought may be a serious AHA moment. I had put aside the novel I’d been slogging away at for nearly a year for a whole lot of good reasons – I wasn’t sure I had the desire/energy/wherewithal to complete a story that possessed me deeply for a time, then, well, didn’t any longer. I was no longer sure if a good story was even there, or if I cared enough to have those characters continue to possess me.

Putting it aside was the right thing to do.

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Meantime, I wanted to keep writing something, and didn’t have a fleshed-out idea for a longer, novel-length work. As you have read in these blog posts, I turned my attention to whatever was in front of me – thoughts about the opaque creature who happened to be my mother, and my reluctant return to the world of health clubs after a blessed 15-year absence.

The AHA was thus this: the gym stuff was fun, and funny. That was precisely the idea, and nothing more. The mommy stuff? Well, it dawned on me that those vignettes might actually be a part of the original novel. Perhaps I hadn’t put it aside after all. Perhaps I had (unknowingly!) meandered down a side road that turned out to be connected to the main artery.

Perhaps. If I can figure out how the heck to do it.

Or even where to start.

It’s currently 5:38 pm. I set aside the entire afternoon, save for a half hour dog walk, to find an inroad for the task at hand. ANY inroad, just a start.

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

  • played several games of Scrabble against the computer (my winning average is 51.8%)
  • texted pictures of my new haircut to several friends
  • browsed the websites of 3 different furniture stores for new living room chairs. The ones I have were bought on Craigslist for the sole purpose of “staging” my house when I thought I was going to sell it. Eight years ago. Still here in the same house. Still have those same chairs.
  • thought about every conversation I’ve overheard during the past couple of weeks to see if there was any good material I could just steal outright.
  • looked at my vacation pictures a few more times.
  • vaccummed, for godssake.
  • trimmed my eyebrows.

Oh good! My friend Rita just texted me that she’s on her way to pick me up for dinner!

Tomorrow is, after all, another day.

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Island Epiphany

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It happened exactly the way it’s supposed to.  It was our second, or maybe our third, day on the island.  I woke up early each morning, just as I am accustomed to doing at home.  We had no clock, no way to tell the time.  Often I woke when it was still dark, or perhaps there was the barest hint of dawn in the distant sky.

Sometimes I would fall back into a profound sleep, but more often I would drift in that most magical place that teeters just at the edge of both awake and not.  When our thoughts are loose, and hints of dreams spread out across our minds.  Sound would be the first thing that entered my awareness.  First the palm branches outside our room’s two walls of windows – suddenly their gentle, incessant flapping would enter; and right after, the waves of the sea coming one after the next.

I would become aware of his body, the parts that touched mine – the cross of limbs, or the barest graze of fingers against my back.  Or he would be fully on the other side of the oceanic bed, arms close against his sides as he lay on his stomach, his long frame stretched diagonally.  I listened until I could hear his breathing, mixed in with the palms and the waves, before I would allow myself to drift again.

It was in this state, wandering in and out of a cavernous haze of utter contented relaxation that it happened.  An epiphany.photo

I have been working on my third novel, Pushing the River,  for around ten months now.  I have had the experience of an entire book – my first novel — pouring from me, a finished first draft in five months.  I have also had the experience of a second book that took years to write.  And a couple more years to re-re-re-rewrite.   I try to ride the waves of bountiful yield and the soul-killing periods of drought as best I can.

And once in a while: magic.  An idea comes, a true lightning bolt – in this case, a solution for something that I was not even fully aware was a problem.  An entirely different approach to the narrative structure.  In other words:  inspiration.  The moments we cannot force.  We just try to trust that they can, and that they will, happen.

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Photos by Steven A. Jones