Words are such a troublesome means of communication.
They are supposed to be a bridge that allows us to speak from a place with no language. What a strange road they travel from that dwelling place of feeling and thought. How pitiful the words we must use to overcome such a fathomless distance.
I see my efforts result in words that collapse back into the darkness.
I see other words veer off track, traveling skyward until they disappear and I’m back to studying my navel and inner space.
Where is that magic place of clarity where words fit the thought? Where they rush forward and take flight, spanning the distance between you and me. How can my words unite us?
Words seem so cheap, yet they are capable of wielding great power.
They can create a bond that links us. Or a chasm that cuts.
I fear my words lose too much in translation.
Sometimes I wish we didn’t need all these elucidations which too often muddy the water. If we could only chirp, or growl, or bark.
How much simpler life would be.
But it’s too late. I can’t stop searching now.
Even though I know there are no words for some things I have to say.
All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,
and I intend to end up there.
This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I’ll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I’m like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
but who is it now in my ear who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?
Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.
Whoever brought me here, will have to take me home. Rumi
The last cage rolls past. Strains of a Souza march float back over the receding circus train. Children wave flags from high atop their father’s shoulders. Confetti and cotton candy fill the air.
The trumpets’ final notes echo off canyon walls. You can’t see the marching band any longer, but the drumsticks’ crisp solitary clicks leave you yearning for more. Following the last wagon is a troupe of midgets in clown suits. Some of them perform tricks that make you laugh so you don’t notice the others who are sweeping and bagging elephant dung and Cracker Jacks.
The whole procession makes a right turn at the end of Main Street onto a path leading into the forest. In a clearing, the wagons and music come to a halt. The Ringmaster passes by each cage and taps them with his wand. The doors open and the animals exit. Only then do you realize one of the cages is yours. A few of the beasts light up cigarettes waiting for the midgets to finish raising a tent.
When it’s completed, there appears to be a saloon inside. The hyena removes his tie, laughing at the donkey’s joke. They both order scotch. In another tent, a DJ plays hot, cold psychedelic jungle sounds, and the beasts make their own freak show. This performance is not meant for coward’s eyes. Your presence here is to record what goes on behind the scenes.
Outside the situation is not much better. A lizard wipes the smile off his face and licks his lips. The target of his quest will be found in a quieter place. He scuttles off through the pine needles and disappears. A turkey vulture is circling high above the tree line.
You struggle to take notes because there is so much going on and it’s all so strange. A fight breaks out among the dancing bears and a sound like thunder sends timid mice scurrying into holes. You stand your ground. You peer inside the magician’s tent where buyers of magic stand in line to purchase a few of his cheap tricks.
After his last customer, the wizard removes his black satin cape and changes into a business suit. He is proud to report his meeting with the Prime Minister. He leaves by the back door.
Outside her trailer, the bearded lady applies healing balm to the elephant’s foot and offers tea to the midgets and a two-headed boy. Night falls. The full moon rises over the tops of the trees. In the very center of the circus wagons it paints a circle of light. A troubadour recites bawdy poems while jugglers toss light globes into the dark sky. Clowns in face paint do back-flips for your camera.
The Amazing Zumo swings from one side of the clearing to the other on his flying trapeze. On his return flight, he catches his wife, the beautiful Zenda, in midair.The moon continues its arc. The side show tent has become a universe of the ruined. Looking for love, beasts who settled for cheap substitutes have fallen into shadows.
What are you doing here? You’ve seen enough. All you want is to go home. But you can’t remember where that is. Clouds pass over the moon, veiling its beauty as though it were a woman too beautiful for your eyes. The music has faded without your noticing. The only sound you hear is the snoring of beasts.You break into a cold sweat, your whole body shaking.
There is no refuge in sight and you’ve lost your notebook. The moon slips down below the trees, then returns and you don’t think this is odd until another day.
It is the time of night when miracles happens. A nightingale, tuned to a higher frequency, begins her song of yearning. You understand her completely. A Hoopoe has taken up residence in the magnolia tree and called the wild birds together for a conference. Another tent you hadn’t noticed before has a line outside. It is the Sage’s tent. He is serving soup and beautiful secrets to the bearded lady and her friends. There are stepping stones of moonlight from where you are to his door.
Potters, painters and photographers all have tangible elements to work with. Writers work in a sphere of the unseen. What an ethereal realm we are engaged in…weaving the fabric of our stories from little more than imagination and inspiration. Sometimes I feel like one of the weavers from ‘the emperor’s new clothes’, spinning my story from invisible thread and inviting my readers to believe in the fantasy I’ve created. Or, perish the thought, am I the foolish king, unfit for this position?
What elements compose the substance of this elusive calling? Just what are the raw materials of our craft? As you might have already noticed, the only visible materials we have are pen and paper. It’s our brains that do all the heavy lifting. Here’s a look inside the brain of a writer at work.
What else goes on inside a writer’s mind?
A writer is abnormally consumed by the desire of putting ideas into words. Subcategories can include the love of actually writing with pen on paper (even if you use a laptop most of the time), scribbling notes about the most inkling-est of ideas in the most unlikely of places (think showers); and a penchant for writing implements, which can often lead to pen fetishes and petty thievery.
A writer will have an overactive right brain that gets really cranky if it kept too long in the box of left brain constraints of making a living.
A writer is often overly mental — not able to shut the internal dialogue off. Writing creates an outlet to focus all that cerebral energy and direct it into something hopefully positive, entertaining and inspiring.
A writer must have an overactive imagination which stops just short of getting hopelessly lost and going stark raving mad. A healthy dose of reality checks with the outside world is necessary to stay sane.
When in a highly creative state I envision my brain neurons exploding like a bunch of fireworks. In my never-ending thirst for knowledge, Google turned up a new word for me to ponder in searching exploding brain synapses. Synaptogenesis.
Since I’m no neurosurgeon I can only report my Wikipedia find on this matter. “Synaptogenesis is the formation of synapses between neurons in the nervous system. Although it occurs throughout a healthy person’s lifespan, an explosion of synapse formation occurs during early brain development, known as exuberant synaptogenesis.
Exuberant. I love that word. I’ll take my overactive, exuberant brain as a good sign.
The old stone savage moves slowly. You and I would not notice his nomadic ways.
A rock of considerable size, the old stone was only a speck of primal dust when earth’s violent labor pains delivered its raw materials. Angels clung to each other in fear and awe of its clamorous birth.
Having arisen to the surface, the young stone left his siblings behind and traveled on an ice flow until he came to the valley floor where he now rests. He is surrounded by wooded hills and rocks born of another but congenial family. Cows often come to scratch their backs on his shoulders.
If you are fortunate enough to find him awake, you can hear him humming.
His tunes are stolen scraps of songs he’s gathered over time. Deeply resonant melodies, the ones that travel on higher frequencies. The ones he remembers are without words for he has no such language.
Some are only simple refrains, but such a variety. Here’s a waltz. There’s a Gregorian chant. Flutes, violins, a melancholy saxophone.
But there’s more, composed by his neighbors and companions. Symphonies from the oaks. Jazz tunes from wildflowers. Sparkling melodies from the spring creek. Echoes from the canyon.
He grows silent as a hawk spirals great circles on thermal updrafts. For a brief moment, the stone feels he is the hawk, air rushing under wide spread wings.
Moonlight winks off the thousand quartz eyes embedded in the old stone savage, igniting a fire which burns within the caverns of his ancient weathered heart.
This poem was inspired by Natalie Goldberg and Robert Frost. Natalie approaches writing as Zen meditation and spiritual practice.
Natalie approaches writing as Zen meditation and spiritual practice. From a writing prompt in her book Writing Down the Bones, she suggests:“Take a poetry book. Open to any page, grab a line, write it down, and continue from there. If you begin with a great line, it helps because you start right off from a lofty place.”
What I ‘grabbed’ was the phrase ‘an old stone savage’ from Robert Frost’s Mending Wall. In Frost’s poem it is spring and he is walking his fence line, struck by his neighbor’s appearance as together they replace stones in their mutual wall.“I see him there bringing a stone grasped firmly by the top in each hand, like an old-stone savage armed.”
When I read that line, my mind’s eye saw a great burly old boulder, rather than a man. He had history. I developed a great affection for this ancient being while discovering his back story.
The photo, which I discovered later, has history as well. The boulder is a natural monument to the great herds of bison that once ranged over the entire prairie and was used as a “rubbing stone”. Location: Arm River Valley in Saskatchewan, Canada
The more I write, the more I find myself thinking like a writer when I’m not at the keyboard. Some of my best ideas come when I’m in the shower, especially when I’ve hit a wall or have a question for my character who gives me a blank stare as an answer.
It’s usually a conscious decision to multi-task like this. I’ll make a mental note of where I’m stuck and carry that with me, like I’m tucking it away in a special fold in my brain. I carry a pocket spiral with me at all times for that little gem that gives me even the slightest nudge of forward motion in my story. I’m delighted whenever this happens. It adds a spring to my step and a sparkle to my eye.
I don’t have the luxury of hours of time blocked off for writing since I’m still working, so this method helps me make the best use of my time. The more I consciously think this way, the more of a habit it becomes.
Even reading the newspaper offers tidbits for my plot and characters. A news story about a woman who abandoned her kids mentioned that she drove a purple Ford Escort. This jumped out at me like a flash. It was the perfect car for the chain-smoking, gambling grandma that my MC’s mother dumps him on.
If I’m not stuck, I still find myself thinking how I would describe something….like the last three leaves on the tree in my front yard. I imagine they are having an argument about who’s going to drop next.
Unexpected unpleasant encounters? Those too are fodder for my writing bag. Recently we found ourselves in a seedy part of L.A. at a rental car agency I found online. The scruffy looking employee on duty and the repainted cars parked on a side street looked like the repo car business it truly was. While my husband was trying to extricate ourselves from the contract we had with them, I entertained myself with memorizing details. I’ve never seen so much black wrought iron with pointy spikes as I did in L.A. But I might be able to use this in some future setting.
I’m thinking that this mental multi-tasking is a way of allowing the door to open to the right brain…by keeping my left brain content enough that it’s being all adult and responsible.
I have more thoughts about multi-tasking and women. But I’ll save that for another post.
If you are a writer, do you have this habit? Do you find it useful? Fun? Or does it get in the way of what you’re trying to do with your responsible left-brain task?
Some days writing is exhilarating. Some days it’s exhausting. But the research is always fascinating.
My recent Google search history would certainly befuddle the adorable little man in this picture. I’d imagine he wouldn’t have to look up the Oxford comma, but doubt he’d be researching ‘what skills you need as a mental health therapist’, ‘writing a novel in 30 days-is it possible? should you try?’, ‘are men with shaved heads more dominant’, ‘dashboard cats’, and last but not least: ‘track your Amazon package’.
As a writer, what oddball things do you end up researching?