I can’t just turn the spigot and the words come pouring out into rockets, bells and poetry. I have to sit in an easy chair and THEN turn the spigot.
I have to pick up a pen or turn on the computer and imagine a girl whose mother was an explorer of time and space and dimensions. I have to look out the window and write down what I see. I have to listen to music and feel what I feel and then tell you. I have to read a book about living on Prince Edward Island during a terrible war overseas and process what that was like. I have to jump at the sound of a bird being surprised that the open space into my well-lit room is a barrier he couldn’t see — and hope he wasn’t dashing so fast to get into this space that he’s crumpled and forever gone below. (He wasn’t.)
In short, I have to live and, living, write the life into words.
Everything I see and hear and feel and smell and taste is something to write about. It all collects inside, welling up in the well, until I sit down and turn the spigot.
And so, on a morning when I’m not sure what to write, I just start the fingers to forming words and see what they tell me.
So you want to accomplish something, but you don’t have time? Of course you have.
You’re awake 16 hours a day; surely you have a few minutes to spend on That Thing You Want To Do.
Even one little task is more than nothing: Put one thing on eBay. Look up how to start a business. Write 100 words of your novel. Send out one resume.
If you do that every day, you’ll at minimum have put 365 things up for sale, written 36,500 words, applied for 365 jobs, by the end of the first year.
Put up a little sign where you can see it first thing: “What can I do today?” and then, before you put your head back on the pillow, do that one thing. You’ll sleep better, and soon you’ll see progress. Heck — Even that one thing is progress, isn’t it?
It was there. He could tell. As quiet as it was, a presence waited nearby.
o o o
A peanut buttery aroma wafted through the room as he unscrewed the cap and took a deep breath.
o o o
Fumbling in the dark, he felt a sudden slimy ooze that didn’t belong. Had he left the grape jelly out, or was this something more sinister?
o o o
The wine sloshed in his mouth so sweet and bitter simultaneously that he didn’t want to swallow right away, but when he did, it warmed his body as it coursed down his throat toward the inevitable glaze.
o o o
He tried to close his eyes, but he couldn’t. The two trains barreled toward each other, sparks flying from their wheels in those furious seconds when everyone tried to stop the juggernauts in their minds knowing they were helpless to do anything. And then they met and the real chaos started.
There it was, a little piece of evidence, proof that life existed before I was born. Then I realized I was surrounded by such evidence — the 1941 Philco radio, the fragile newspaper dated 1915, the Will Rogers biography from 1935 that spoke of his recent death.
What was it about the 1948 nickel that astonished me, all of a sudden? Was it the knowledge that mints minted coins years before I had a hint of what a mint was? Was it the premonition that after I am gone, the universe will continue?
The small token of years gone by reminded me how small I am but also that time’s a-wasting.
I wasn’t sure whether to set it aside as a constant reminder or just spend it.
I picked up my old college edition of selected Emily Dickinson poems on an impulse and opened at random — I read 97, 99, 98, 103, 100, 102, 101, and said, “No more! My brain’s exploded, this is so much in so few words —”
It was another example of the power of the book shelf — what fireworks await the brave soul who dares pull one down and peek inside — the passion and the mind that crafted the words together — almost too much to comprehend, and yet comprehension was what she sought.
The book, not nearly as ravished as it deserves after near 50 years, but at least as evidence this is not my first exploration since college, here’s a note inside marking “137, 168, 1” but tucked between pages 150 and 151, as if to suggest poems 170, 171, 172, and/or 173 hold some treasure I wanted to return to.
And here are two drops of coffee on the cover as evidence I’ve been here since my coffee-less college days, but the note (”War — Stan Lee, QVC, Wednesday, 8-10 p.m.”) is from a pad with a former wife’s name, circa early 1990s, so it’s about 30 years since I last heard from Emily. I feel shame, but then I see so many other minds to mine on these shelves, and her volume is slim and unassuming, easy to overlook. Still — but still, here she is now.
“Let’s see what the night can do (I wanna get lost)” — “Drive,” Jason Mraz
“Here’s to the infinite possible ways to love you” — “Have It All,” Jason Mraz
Maybe when it’s writing time, I shouldn’t put words and music on the turntable …
I do think Jason Mraz fills a niche that once had folks like John Sebastian in it. Mraz is like a modern Lovin’ Spoonful — catchy pop with an edge.
“I think we could be bigger than cheese and macaroni …”
“Better With You” — also really good.
“I am on a lonely road and I am traveling traveling traveling traveling” — “All I Want,” Joni Mitchell
Sure, I’ll concentrate on writing better if I put Joni Mitchell’s masterpiece on … Blue and Ladies of the Canyon would be on my desert-island list. This morning’s light bulb is that I’d include Know, too.
My most vivid memory of youth is that on Saturday morning, Dad would listen to his records. The stereo system was an integral part of the living room furnitures, with a shelf of LPs packed side by side. I that sense I am my father’s son — my creative corner was not perfect until I had a turntable and a cube full of records within reach.
Why don’t I write more appreciations of the music that has given me hours and hours of pleasure through the years? I must have several days if not weeks of entertainment sitting on shelves around the house. “Where your treasure is, there is your heart.” Obviously my heart is in music — and books, of course.
“Songs are like tattoos, you know I’ve been to sea before …”
I bet I could write a thousand blog posts that begin, “You gotta hear this album.”
I’m back on Prince Edward Island in my reading, reliving The Great War with Lucy Maud Montgomery and Rilla of Ingleside, her fifth book featuring Anne Shirley Cuthbert Blythe of Green Gables, published in 1921. Montgomery wrote two more, prequel tales, but years later, so this will conclude her first 7-8 year burst of creativity and provide the last word chronologically on Anne and her family. Given what I’ve heard of the author’s feelings toward war, it will not be the happiest of endings.
Are all stories, even those as whimsical as Anne of Green Gables, fated to grow darker as young people grow and learn more about the “realities” of the world? Or is the one who thinks the worst of humanity the one who is really living the fantasy?
We are capable of unspeakable cruelty, or there would be no wars or murders or mayhem, but our better angels call to something truly deeper and childlike within us. Our earliest natural instinct as children is to explore and learn and delight in life, before the fear and violence are trained into us. Our instinct and desire are to stay alive, to feel and enjoy this life we have. Anyone who understands that instinct in themselves is not going to wish harm or death on others.
We react violently when violence is thrust upon us, but I have to believe, left to ourselves, we mean no harm.
Perhaps I’m the foolish scientist in the old movies who doesn’t want to kill the monster, only to be killed by the monster itself. I’m not so naive as to suggest that monsters don’t exist, but I do dare say that monsters are created, not born, and some monsters spend their time rallying our emotions to think of certain others as monsters, for the sole purpose of raising up generations of actual monsters and zombies.
How do we drive the monsters away? I am encouraged that one teaching and one teacher have resonated for more than 2,000 years: The one who taught “Love one another” and “Turn the other cheek” and forgiveness and understanding.
Somehow, from time to time, some have twisted his words into justifying the monstrous, but at the core of his life was his willingness not to strike back even at his murderers. The reason I have hope is that such a man continues to inspire the human heart at its core. If that is the core at the deepest level of our nature, we can defeat the monsters within and among us, and with love.
Why do I love Godzilla? And specifically, why is the first Godzilla movie (both Gojira, the magnificent Japanese cut, and Godzilla King of the Monsters, the American re-edit with Raymond Burr) one of my favorite films of all?
I suppose it has something to do with fire and explosions and all those things that kids like — I did first encounter the movie before I was 10 — but I always liked the small stories underneath the big one, featuring the characters of Emiko and Professor Tamani and the mysterious scientist Serazawa.
I even liked the soap opera of Peter Parker’s life more than (or at least as much as) Spider-Man’s fights. Sure, I was fascinated by his clashes with the Sandman and Doctor Doom and the Lizard and the Vulture and all that, but I think it was Pete who kept me coming back — would he triumph over the bully Flash Thompson and maybe get to know Betty Brandt a little better?
The big action stories have lots of bells and whistles and spectacular stuff, but if we don’t care about the people caught in the middle, it’s just an Independence Day fireworks display or a roller coaster ride, enjoyed for a few minutes and forgotten.
Stories need heart. The best Godzilla movies have heart. Marvel Comics prevailed because they had heart. When we care about the people first, we care more about the monsters and supervillains and dangerous explosions and bells and whistles.
Ten minutes. That’s all it took — a short burst of effort, a little bit of time — to write the blog post I put up Wednesday. That’s how 272-day writing streaks happen.
“Can you meet this goal for this moment in time?”
“Sure, I guess I can.”
“Good. How about now? Can you do it for now?”
“Well, the pen is moving across the page, isn’t it?”
“How about for this moment?”
“Yes! And now you’re getting annoying.”
That’s an old anecdote and not original with me, and your eyes might glaze over reading it, but as I wrote in a song lyric a long time ago, there’s a reason a cliche’s a cliche. There’s a reason anecdotes get shared and retold:
There’s a truth in those old nuggets, if your un-glaze your eyes and give them a bit of thought for, well, a moment.