Tag Archives: creativity

On the Rebound


I had this great metaphor going about the word “rebound”, in the vein of a golf ball rebounding around in a tile bathroom — unpredictably, chaotically, terrifyingly. Of course, that golf ball ultimately goes nowhere — at best it smashes some things up, causes a heck of a lot of havoc, maybe dings and dents if not outright destroys the floors and the walls. But it sure does make a lot of noise while it’s about it.

Why that metaphor? Because that’s what my creativity feels like, of late. (I’ve taken to personifying it as this “other”, this entity that rides along with me; the proverbial angel/devil on my shoulder, whispering inspired idiocy in my ear.) I’m heavy on ideas but light on product. Writing a fair bit but with not much to show for it. Feeling a little, myself, like I’m bouncing off the walls, unable to really get anywhere.

Really got into it. Sat down to write, then rechecked — and the prompt wasn’t “-ound”, like I thought — for which I was pretty proud of the word “rebound”. No, the prompt was “round”.

So, yeah.

Guess that’s that.

Happy Saturday.

This post is part of Stream-of-Consciousness Saturday.

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Write Club


I was listening to an interview with Chuck Palahniuk, and it made me realize – I have no idea what kind of writer I am.

I know I’m some sort of writer. Here I am, after all. These words aren’t creating themselves. But I don’t really know how I’m doing it. Or rather, I don’t know if I’m doing it in the best way.

Best, of course, is relative, but it must be said – I’m constantly eaten up with doubt over whether I’m doing it right, where right means in a productive, creative, efficient manner. Whence springs the doubt? Well, to begin, I have no idea how I want to write. My head is full of these conflicting romantic notions about process and product. On the one hand, I revere the idea of going away in a dark corner (literally – one day I’ll photograph my writing corner) to let my fingers tap dance the story to life. On the other, I hold this fondness for the written word – a fondness which has filled up my home and work space with notebooks and pencils of all sorts, and whose marble-statue grip on my soul compels me, always, to wander down the office supply aisle are the Target or the Kroger, “just to see” if they have any neat writerly tools I might need to stock up on.

But, see, then I realize – when’s the last time I really wrote longhand? The answer, it turns out, is about three months ago. (this I know because opposite the page on which I’m now madly scribbling is the last journal entry I wrote, back when I was forcing myself to the habit even when my heart wasn’t in it. It was about Canada, on June 8. So much green.)

So I romanticize writing longhand, but (it’s impossible not to notice) I don’t actually do it. When I’m writing, almost all the time, it’s at the computer, sat behind the keys, a hammering monkey. In the interview, Palahniuk quotes Kerouac or somebody to say, “that’s not writing, that’s typing.” There’s derision there, for sure. A hipsterish scoffing at a process which, at core, is just another way to do it. But Palahniuk prizes the written word in a sort of sacred way, and so, it turns out, do I.

After all, when I embarked on this adventure, I did it, not from behind a computer screen, but from the pages of a notebook basically identical to this one. And when I am struck by my best ideas – my sweet Jesus get that on the page before you forget it and, by its omission, make the universe a sadder place ideas – it’s basically never when I’m sat at the computer, typing. No, those ideas strike like lurking cobras, when I’m just on the precipice overlooking dreamland, when I’m caught at a stoplight, when I’m brushing my teeth, when I’m out for a run, when I’m watching my kids bounce basketballs off each other’s heads.

And what do I do then?

I don’t dash to the computer, wait for it to boot up, open a word processor, open a blank file (or worse, navigate to an existing one). I don’t reach for my phone, swipe to an app, open it, create a note, title it and punch away with my thumbs. No! When the idea strikes, I’m reaching for pencil and paper, because there is nothing simpler, there’s nothing in the way of that.

And yeah. I’ll go hippie-dippie and affirm that there’s still something magical about the scratching of my papermate 0.7 on a sheet of clean, lined paper.

It doesn’t escape my notice that my tone, of late, is full of resolve and enthusiasm: things I want to try, things I want to do, ways I want to be better. Maybe it’s the hint of fall in the air in these recent mornings – it feels like we’re about to shrug off the heavy sweat-cloak of summer. Maybe it’s just the right stimulus striking at the right time, like lightning forking through the primordial ooze and spawning a brand new genesis.

Or maybe it’s just Chuck Palahniuk’s word-seeds falling on fertile soil between my ears.

Whatever it is, I’ll take it. And when it’s time to write in the days and weeks to come, I’ll be considering my notebooks first.

This post is part of stream of consciousness Saturday.


Sprout Tells Me a Story


“Dad, I have to tell you about this guy.”

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“Oh, yeah?”

“His name is Rocker Baddo.”

“Wow, that’s pretty cool.”

“Um, it’s cool, but he’s not a nice guy.”

“No?”

“Well, he’s a mean guy with powers. He catches people with his magics and his powers are being mean to animals, and he makes mean animals like dragons catch him. And he makes dragons catch other people, too.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. You’re putting this on Facebook?”

“Maybe. I’m not sure yet.”

“Okay, well, you should show someone. Put their name on the website, too.”

“Maybe I’ll do that. What else can you tell me about the guy?”

“Well, he smacks people with bombs. And he sneaks up on people to catch them. And he — you remember what I said about him that he says, when he sneaks up to scare you? He says BRRRRRRAAAARRRRRRR.”

“Wow!”

“Spell that word, too. And do you need me to tell you more?”

“If you like.”

“Okay, well, the worstest part that he does is when his stomach blows up with the little blower, it goes all over the city until everybody gets dooms right in the tower. (It’s just too long for me to sit, daddy.)”

(He gets up and starts monster-stomping around.)

“That’s okay, bud. Anything else?”

“I think there’s a lot more to tell you. Guess what? The other part is when the goats come out. After he does, he gets a lot of mean animals to come out, and after the animals come out, the animals are critters and they walk around like mean monster walkers but they’re robots. And when they blast people, people fall down. And when that happens, they put fire on you and your eyes, and then you don’t wake up anymore.”

(Jesus.)

“That sounds pretty scary.”

“Yeah, very scary.”

(At this point — he was stomping around like a mean monster walker robot, and unplugged the laptop, which distracted him enough to derail the story entirely.)

Oh, to have that amount of creativity, and the total indifference to whether it makes a damned bit of sense.


Metaphor Monday: The Unmown Lawn


First of all, is it “mown” or “mowed”? Auto-correct liked “mowed” over “mown” but doesn’t like either “unmowed” or “unmown.” What up with that? Anyway.

Not to harp on a theme, but we’re still getting settled in the new house, and one thing task that I was particularly avoiding was the mowing of the lawn.

Big deal, right? It’s a lawn. You live in suburbia, you pay your dues. You handle it. Grass. Mower. Gas. Summer heat. Suck it up, sweat it out, keep up with the Joneses, and mow it.

Problem is, the lawn at the new house is about three times the size of the lawn I’m used to mowing, so what was once a 25-minute job to be breezed through in between sips of coffee on a Saturday morning is now a capital-C Chore requiring over an hour to complete.

Okay, so great, it’s going to take longer than I want to do it, but the new house saves me on the order of four or five hours in weekly drive time, so again: the price you pay.

But if you’re a regular reader of the blarg here, you know that no seemingly mundane task, no apparently benign situation has proven to be quite so simple. Just so with the new lawn.

The front lawn is blanketed with this lovely stuff — I don’t know a gopher’s arsehole from a chipmunk’s elbow when it comes to anything green, so I’m gonna say it’s BERTUCKY FLUEGRASS — soft and springy underfoot. The word “lush” comes to mind. If they could make this stuff into carpet, I’d do the interior of the house in it. Surely this is the grass that adorns the lawns of heaven.

Then you hit the backyard and you step into the untamed Amazon rainforest of grasses. Gone is the delicate bedding of greens whose clippings waft away like angel dust on a celestial breeze. Here, instead, is a tangling thicket, a countlessly-armed kraken of grasping blades and shoots into which, once your shoe disappears, you wonder if you will ever see it again. Whatever’s back here (and again, not knowing anything about grasses, I’ll just call it DEVIL-FESCUE) grows about four times as fast as the Bertucky Fluegrass out front. The terrain is less gently-rolling-possibly-part-of-an-improvised-golf-course-green and more sheetmetal-poked-up-from-beneath-by-demons.

Furthermore, when our move was delayed for first a few days, then a few weeks, the owner of this house, fed up with the process (rightly so!), folded his arms and decided not to bother mowing the grass any longer. So the Devil-Fescue got up to knee-high in some places.

So. Suck it up and mow it, right? Well… if you’re a frequent or even only sometime mower of lawns as I am, you know that with your standard, run-of-the-mill, welcome-to-the-suburbs Saturday-special lawnmower from the Home Depot, you know that the secret to successful mowing is to not allow things to get out of control. Get after it weekly, keep it from getting overgrown. Because once it’s overgrown, god help you. Clippings from the Devil-Fescue will clog your special little mower in nothing flat. The tall grass will snarl the wheels. You’ll be getting the workout of your life on your pull-starter arm while breaking your back to flip the thing over and pull the cut grass out of the blade and the vent, all while the rain is starting to fall and the neighbors are laughing at you over glasses of wine they spent the last twenty minutes chilling on their back porch.

Which is, of course, exactly where I found myself. Because make no mistake, mowing a lawn in such a condition is awful, but every day it’s allowed to fester beyond that only makes the job that much harder. Comes a point where, no matter how daunting the task looks, you have to bite your lip and accept the back-breaking task before you, or let it go forever. And given that we’re new to the neighborhood, it seems a little early to go giving the finger to the HOA at this point, so there I was.

The parallel to writing is obvious, right? You treat the writing like a devotional, returning to it regularly much the way you return to cutting the grass once a week. Keep the Devil-Fescue in check and don’t allow it to grow to strangling height. Do it regularly and the job is easy: You carve your neat little lines in the lawn, or if you’re fancy, you do it on the diagonal (or if you’re me, you mow around the outside in ever-shrinking boxes, like a game of snake that’s doomed from the start. Boy, I wonder what that says about my psychology). You put it off, and the job becomes untenable.

The longer you stay away from writing, the harder it becomes to go back to writing. Or to any thing, I suppose. You reach the point where you either go back to it in an epicly (epically?) traumatic battle of wills, or you let it go forever.

Or you move back into an apartment and never have to worry about mowing a stupid lawn again.

Not pictured: running out of gas 2/3 of the way through and cursing the entire observable universe. Note the dead heaps of Devil-Fescue and the wheelbarrow I overturned after running entirely out of fargoes.

Mondays are for metaphors! Every week, I’ll pick a thing and compare it to another thing. Probably writing, since that’s what this blog is about, but who knows? Metaphors are awesome. Alliteration, doubly so. Got a suggestion for next week’s metaphor? Drop it in the comments. And yeah, I’m a day late today — you’ll see why below.


Get Offa That Art Crap


I ran into a former student at the grocery this weekend. (This is a side effect of living close to where you work, something my father always recommended against. We lived within walking distance of the high school where he worked and where I was a student, and we couldn’t go anywhere without running into students [former and current], parents, co-workers, etc. I got used to sitting in the car and daydreaming for fifteen minutes after we’d gotten done shopping while he’d be stuck in conversation with somebody or other. The advent of the Game Boy was a boon to my childhood that can never be appreciated by the current generation. In my day, you sat and stewed and waited in your own thoughts.)

She has gone on from my humble literature classroom to a good in-state university, as I expected she would. What I didn’t expect was her choice of major: Geology.

Rocks.

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When I wrote her a letter of recommendation to the same university, it was for their music program. She was a chorus student. An artist, too. Talented on both counts. And now, she’ll be studying rocks.

Her dad was with her, and he jumped right in there while I was trying to puzzle that one out. “I’m so glad we got her offa that art crap to do something worthwhile.” Boastfully, he said this. With a big smile on his face and his hand on her back. She, meanwhile, had that half-hearted smile kids get when their parents are bragging on them for something they know is not a big deal. And (and I’m sure I didn’t just imagine this) — a little bit of sadness in her eyes.

It was obvious that she’d gone in the geology direction — or at least in the offa that art crap direction — at her dad’s urging. And it seemed to me that she was not entirely proud of making this announcement to me.

I have a few thoughts about this:

  1. On the one hand, it doesn’t much matter to me what she’s studying particularly — just the fact that she’s gone on to college is a good thing. Because too many students don’t — especially from her school, her community..
  2. On the other hand, yes it does matter to me because she had a passion, and if her parent turned her away from that passion, then that’s a bummer.
  3. On the other other hand, I totally get dad’s perspective. The likelihood of making a living with your art is unfortunately remote. We have to make a living in the meantime, and that means having more skills in the set, more tools in the box. So I’m not exactly blind to his desire to push his kid toward a more “serious” option.
  4. On the other other other hand … Geology? Is this a field with tons of career opportunities that I never heard about? If so, that rocks. I’m not even sorry.

I dunno. Unfortunately, I see both sides of this issue in sharp relief. Parents have to do their best to give their kids the best chance in this world, so maybe a parent has the unpleasant duty of delivering the harsh truth and pushing his kid off the path of rainbows and daisies. But then, aren’t parents also supposed to encourage their kids not to settle for what’s “sensible” and chase their dreams? And doesn’t that mean occasionally chasing after a pipe dream and getting a degree in something worthless like music or drama? (cough, cough.)

Ultimately, I’m not bothered by her decision. No such decision is easy, and surely they spent a lot of hours deciding what was best for her. And I guess I’m not particularly bothered by the dad’s feeling on the matter either — it makes sense, if it seems a bit cold.

What I take issue with is the self-satisfied, self-aggrandizing condescension. “We got her offa that art crap.”

Because art is a waste of time, right? Because nothing good comes of art, right? Because any endeavor that isn’t specifically geared toward putting more money in your pocket is fit only for the hippie unicorn-chasers, right?

No, sorry. Art matters.

If you trudge through your workday for the privilege of vegging out on the couch to watch the newest episode of your favorite TV show, art matters.

If you fantasize about getting high off of inhaling the crisp, fresh-smelling pages of a new book, art matters.

If you avoid water-cooler spoilers lest you have your favorite characters’ secrets revealed to you without the appropriate narrative foreplay, art matters.

If you turn on the radio or a podcast or an audiobook to save your soul from the monotony of your daily drive, art matters.

Art, in short, bloody well matters — it ain’t crap to be got off of. It may not always — or often — be financially rewarding. But in this life, there are other rewards than the ones and zeroes in your bank account. Art is the water of friggin’ life. And we could all use a drink.

I didn’t say this to him, of course. Polite society and all that. But I take a quiet pleasure in knowing that he will one day be figuratively eviscerated for his transgression against her creative spirit.

You know. Through her art.


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