It was 1993, and the name Lorena Bobbitt single-handedly drove the sales of flower bouquets through the roof. Sultry alligator wrestler-turned-attorney general Janet Reno ordered the deadly raid on the Branch Davidian Religious Sect in Waco, Texas. And the whirring, humming automated residential housing algorithms of Michigan State University matched me up with a snag-toothed, pumpkin-headed man-child from suburban Detroit named Mark (for legal, moral and humanitarian reasons, I won’t print his last name here but I’ll give you a hint: it rhymes quite symmetrically with oh, smell…).
When I wasn’t knocking over the soda bottles of chew juice he’d left strewn about our floor, or dry-heaving from the rancid, composting piles of soiled clothes he’d leave lying out on his squalid mattress, I was flushing the gurgling mallow he’d left in the toilet or splashing away the dried toothpaste spittle from the sink basin. One night, over a few rounds of Trivial Pursuit in the study room with some other guys from our floor, Mark excused himself. When he returned, he had with him an unassuming shoebox that he set out onto the table in front of everyone. Without uttering a word, he lifted the lid, revealing a Christmas-colored, loaf-sized mound of what looked like fermented moss.
“It’s my booger brick,” he said. Quickly shoving ourselves back from the table, we listened as Mark went on to explain with listless sentimentality that what had begun innocently enough as a few, leisurely booger-wipes against a square of spare cardboard at around age twelve became a lifelong craft he would dedicate himself to building upon, one glistening little mucus-y glob at a time. To the rest of us, he may as well have displayed a severed human head and it was at that moment that I decided Mark was just off enough that I could no longer tolerate living with him and would pay the extra cash for a single room for the remainder of the year. Even though Mark was an extreme case, I pretty much decided from that point on to paint all potential roommates—no, all people, in general—with the same germ-covered brush as gross and vile…and this isn’t even accounting for those who think grossness should have some sort of redemptive artistic value.
On November 10, city officials in Seattle steam-blasted the city’s Gum Wall; a 50-foot long corridor of brick in Post Alley near the city’s famed Pike Place Market. While standing impatiently in the long lines for a local improv theater to open back in 1993, tactless patrons began pressing their wads of chewed-up gum to the alley’s walls.
Proving that we live in a vast and diverse world that allows people to be idiots in entirely different ways, the trend caught on. Throngs of germy hippies from around the Pacific Northwest turned out in throngs to leave their own microbial contributions to the wall, leaving a germy, gummy glob of messages, mosaics and various slogans of the cause du jour that would ultimately stretch 50 feet long, 15 feet high, become several inches thick, and weigh a total of 2,350 lbs.
Feeling sick yet?
Considered among the five germiest tourist attractions of 2009 (second only to the Blarney Stone), according to TripAdvisor, it appeared as if the wall’s grody history would be effaced for good. But within hours of having been scrubbed clean, guerilla artists pressed a sugarless rendering of the Eiffel Tower into the wall in the wake of the Paris attacks.
In the popular imagination, art is one of those things that comes about as the product of a diverse range of human activities usually involving imaginative or technical skill. I guess in that sense, whether Seattle’s gum wall conveys some imaginative and workable canvass for artistic expression is still up for debate. Although, if you’re willing to buy that, then I’ve got some used toilet paper to sell you…just think of them as Rorschach imprints.
Being relatively new to the whole blogging thing, I’m still trying to navigate my way around the WordPress landscape. Despite the patient helpfulness of my friend and fellow Redwoods colleague, Laura Wilkinson Hedgecock, I still can’t figure out the difference between an “SSO” and an “SEO”. To me, “Users Ultra” sounds like a brand of condoms, and a “Plugin” sounds like something you’d order from an Adam & Eve catalog.
One thing I’ve figured out: you receive upwards of a billion spam messages a day in your spam filter. Some of them are pretty lame, like the tenacious pitches on how to make $1700 a day from home, or how I can buy a new pair of Air Jordans for $75 (written in mostly indecipherable English). Others, however, appear quite complementary. Even if they’re not specific to me, they still warm my cold, December heart.
Nevertheless, I have to remind myself that each of these messages were originally banged out on a keyboard by a pair of tender, caring human hands. With this mind, I’ve agreed to respond to some of them.
onlinecigarettestoreus wants to know:
“Great looking website. Assume you did a bunch of ace discount cigarettes your own html coding.”
–Yeah, I considered that; just didn’t seem like the right time.
Here’s one from scsuhuskies:
“saffiano leather for sale”
–You better not be joking…
Gay porn writes:
gay firstname.lastname@example.org 22.214.171.124
“Excellent post. I was checking constantly this blog and I am impressed! Very helpful info particularly the closing phase I deal with such info much. I was seeking this certain information for a very lengthy time. Thank you and best of luck.”
–I’m glad you enjoyed the post, gay. I’ve actually had quite a few people remark on the closing phase section as well. I’m just sorry that it took so much time for you to find it. Check back next week when I’ll be providing some helpful tips on farcy garages and kedge tarhood.
And then there’s this writer’s two-cents:
“Have you ever thought about including a little bit more than just your articles?
I mean, what you say is fundamental and all. You could give yourself redirection.
However just imagine if you added some great photos or video clips to give your posts more,
“pop”! Your content is excellent but with pics and videos, this website could definitely be one of the best in its field.
-Solid advice, coming from a guy who can’t even spell ‘red erection’ correctly.
Just like hipsters and Scientology, the city of Flint is one of those things that’s easy to make fun of. Often referred to as “America’s murder capital”, it saw 66 murders in 2012, tying with its all-time high from just two years before. Not too shabby when you consider that equates to 65 murders per 100,000 people, a figure that tops that of Detroit or even Chicago. (more…)
I like to write early. And by early, I mean that knife-edge, where-does-the-night-end-and-the-morning-begin? ass-crack-of-dawn kind of early where everyone’s still asleep and the house is quiet and even the dogs look as though they’re trying to sleep off the remnants of a ruff night (har har…get it?). The smell of coffee wafts through the house and it’s the time of day when I’m at my least self-critical. Early in the morning, everything seems in place. Distractions are limited. All I can hope for is that once I finally sit down at my laptop, my expectations don’t go slamming head-on into a wall.
I once had an idea for a novella about a long-haul truck driver who, at day’s end and by the glow of a map light in his sleeper cabin, commits himself to writing a poem a day. Its working title was Road Scholar and I’d kept detailed notes on everything from semi-truck mechanics and nomenclature to radio jargon and trucker lifestyle (with two subsections devoted entirely to trucker gastronomy and lot lizards). I’d given my salty dog protagonist a Kris Kristofferson-look and had even sketched out a limited backstory that included a dishonorable discharge from military service for having killed the pimp of a Laotian prostitute.
It was a sure thing. Something easy and fun. The intellectual equivalent of ordering-in. But in those precious, waning hours of early morning silence and concentration, I found myself barely able to squeeze out even a few sentences. The same thing happened the next day, and the day after that. Weeks passed, and nary a page came and before long I had all but aborted the project.
I suspect that, like most writers, the turbine that generates my creativity comes from some precinct of my unconscious; a place that can never be charted or mapped by even the most sensitive of neuro-imaging instruments. It can be an ornery and complicated thing. A frigid lover. And you have to ready yourself to accept that inspiration might just reject you when you’re most ready for it, only to come pounding down the door of your unconsciousness at 3 am when you should be asleep.
Personally, routine is what seems to be the best companion for writing (I like to write in the morning…rarely do I ever write past noon). But on a bad day, when I’ve squandered my time with self-doubt (which is the inevitable by-product of non-performance), I find myself feeling as if it’s necessary to work past my “normal business hours” until I can find just one sentence I feel good about ending the day with. Perhaps it’s no different than a gambler at a blackjack table who feels he’ll win it all back if he just hangs in there. It doesn’t help, of course, when you compare yourself to other established writers who seem capable of churning out one work after another with little to no effort. In a swelled and euphoric state, you may produce a good six or seven pages of what might seem keepable material one day only to scrap it all the next; perhaps no different than bedding someone one night only to regret it the next morning.
Inspiration can strike at any time. Have your coffee ready.
Consider horror maestro Stephen King who was, at one time, contracted to produce three books a year. Norman Mailer’s series of child support payment books were written quick and haphazardously just to keep the Friend of the Court off his ass. Literary jokester David Foster Wallace once famously said of John Updike that “…he’s never had a single, unpublished thought.” Each writer I’ve just mentioned have themselves struggled with productive droughts. Yet, between the three of them, the words produced would probably rival the number of stars in our galaxy.
So, is it still possible then to plod through and produce volumes of passable material in a relatively short time? I guess the answer is subjective. If you think what you’ve written isn’t entirely shit, then it shouldn’t matter how much time or effort you’ve put into it, which brings me to my own self-evaluation. I can’t help but wonder sometimes if I acquiesce too much to the ebb and flow of inspiration to begin with. Perhaps the advice should be to just ram through any future creative roadblocks and keep…writing.
That’s the thing about advice, though. It’s much easier to give, than follow.
Having rescheduled yet another appointment due to my predilection for getting lost in my writing, I decided that it was time to sit down and have a heart-to-heart with my Muse. Seriously! When I chose a literary career, I thought I was supposed to be in charge of the writing process. After all, many successful authors describe how they structure their days, “reporting to their offices” to write for several hours, after which they go about the rest of their lives as they see fit.
Obviously, they never met my Muse. Like a selfish child, it can clamor within my head at the most awkward times. The following is an example of a recent exchange. Feel free to offer suggestions as to how you would handle my quixotic Muse!
MUSE: “Hello there! Remember me? I just thought of a way you can improve that chapter you’ve been struggling with!”
ME: “It is 3:45 am. Can’t I just put in a wake-up call for 7:30? I’ll be fresher, and my fingers should work better then. OK? Good! Keep in touch . . . . “
MUSE: “’Fresher?’ And how do you think that is going to fix that overwritten, narrative-starved, clunky excuse for writing? I need you edgy. Nervous. That’s what’s missing in that chapter. Now, get your butt out of bed and let’s get busy!”
ME: “Get busy? I’ve been pounding away on that keyboard until my fingers have gone numb. I’ve had to call to push up meetings with kind and patient folks who have decided that there is simply no way they are going to get me to conform to a ‘normal’ schedule, and even find me mildly amusing in an eccentric way. Besides, who put you in charge anyway? I’m the writer, you know!”
MUSE: “Really? And who do you think planted Max inside of your head anyway, ‘Madam Writer?’ Who do you think woke you up that morning so many years ago with a little old man chattering away in a Yiddish accent you simply couldn’t ignore? Who do you think presented his entire story, beginning to end like a shimmering rainbow, even showing you the pot of gold on the last page? Who kicked you out of bed and drove you to your computer, so you could quickly record a rough outline of chapters before the Universe reabsorbed the story? ME, that’s who! So, who is in charge here? Do you really think you have much of a choice in the matter?”
ME: “Well, I agree that you got the ball rolling. But, I don’t see you sitting hours upon end at that computer until your tailbone screams for relief. I don’t see you longing to be lost in Max’s world when your beloved partner impatiently calls you to yet another dinner he’s prepared just to hear, ‘Five more minutes. I just need to finish this paragraph!’ (With me generally appearing an hour later, my plate of food in the microwave awaiting resuscitation). I was the one who went into postpartum depression when I completed the first draft of the manuscript because I couldn’t bear to lose Max. Why shouldn’t I have the choice as to when to write? I’m not a television remote control device, you know. I have never found it comfortable to write, ‘On Demand!’”
MUSE: “Because of ME! Do you know how lucky you are? Just think of all the people in the world who are asked to write on a subject that bores them to tears. Yet, they have no problem doing it. You’ve been there. I’ve rescued you time and again from linguistic drudgery in dreary offices. And this is the thanks I get? ‘Wake me at 7:30?’”
ME: “OK, OK. You have a point there. How about we make a deal? You are allowed to wake me at 3:45 am to plant a thought, but as I need all the strength I can get to finish these revisions, how about your letting me hit your ‘snooze button’ so I can get a little extra shuteye until 7:30 instead?”
MUSE: “I am more than a little bit offended! Likening me to an alarm clock is like comparing a brilliant sunset to the streetlights that go on at appointed times. I can’t give advance notice as to when I’m going to burst forth with some magnificent insight, rain glorious words down upon you like a refreshing shower, or fill your head and heart to overflowing. No, I’m afraid there are no deals if you want to be a writer. Writers aren’t doctors. There’s no vacation time, weekends, or full nights of sleep. That’s simply the name of the game.”
ME: “But, doctors certainly get paid a lot more. A LOT more when you consider that being a full-time writer often means having to go long periods ‘on sabbatical,’ from any type of meaningful employment!”
MUSE: “’Meaningful employment?’ Crunching numbers, or trudging to an office with bland people doing bland things while they answer to bland bosses who direct their lives? Writers are on their own! If you want a structured existence, than forget living a life with a Muse to provide you with pictures that dance in your head. It boils down to one simple question. Are you really serious about being a writer? If not, I can look for somebody else . . . . ”
ME: “NO! Don’t leave me! Without you, Max wouldn’t be jabbering away in my ear and I don’t quite think I’d ever be whole again without him. He takes long walks with me and draws me into his world so I can experience the full flavor of his life and times. We’ve become very close. If you left, I’m not quite certain he’d know how to find me, nor I him. You win. If you can’t wait until a reasonable hour, than I suppose my nickname, ‘The Late Sue Ross’ will have to stand. Of course, I may never have work again, not to mention friends or colleagues who have trouble understanding the way of the writer, but that’s the way it will have to be.”
MUSE: “Truly, I really don’t want to cost you friends, or employment, but I think you’re being a little melodramatic here. We’ve been working on this book for 14 years, during which time you’ve held down some pretty impressive jobs (with a few breaks here and there). I guess it’s hard for me to hold back when the energy is flowing.”
ME: “I get that, but keep in mind that when you aren’t holding back, neither can I!”
MUSE: “True, but if I’m on a roll, and you decide to come along, you’ll just have to accept the consequences. I will continue to wake you up and typing whenever the spirit moves me. You will simply have to accept your lot in life as a writer enslaved to me, your Muse, for as long as it takes. Not really a bad gig. You could have been born into a life as a telemarketer or bill collector! Instead, you are living two lives. Your own, and Max’s.”
ME: “My own, and Max’s, hmm? Well then, let’s get back to work!”
MUSE: “Now, that’s more like it! OK, get some rest for now. But, remember . . . I’ll see you in your dreams.”
(“Muse Attack” created by – http://intergalacticwritersinc.wordpress.com)
People-watching. It’s a never-ending source of inspiration for fiction writers who might find themselves in need of some good source material. If, like us, you abide by the somewhat cliché notion that everyone’s got a story to tell, then what better place to peruse the wall-to-wall supply of living, breathing, fictional rough drafts than in a shopping center? (more…)