Saturday, January 08, 2005

about flash-a-thonning and writing in general

I love flash-a-thons. There's an amazing amount of terrific material that comes out of them as people feed off of one another's writing. I've been really touched by several people's writing during the current one. And I love that it puts me into writing mode when I might not otherwise be. There's a lot of material that I generate that I don't really care much about, but that material helps to get me moving. The problem I'm having right now, oddly, is that the last piece I wrote put me into a place that I'm having trouble getting away from.

It's not an emotional place, per se. Rather, it took me to a point where I said, "Ah. Good. This is good. I like this. So what the hell do I do now?" Because the problem with writing something good (and lord knows we'd all like to have this problem more often) is that I feel like I can't match it. Or maybe that I don't quite want to match it. I imagine that, all too quickly, I'll start trying to force my characters to be just as beautiful as previous characters were, even if, perhaps, they want to be just silly people.

I also find myself looking around at the world asking it for pieces to use. This is pretty typical of my writing all the time--snippets of conversation, natural scenes, etc. play into my writing. For example: for the Picasso piece, a number of things fell into my lap:

1) The weather. I'd been reading about this once-in-a-generation weather cycle over lunch before coming into work. And one of my co-workers is a weather geek. He loves to check out weather maps. So he and I were discussing the bizarro weather that's hitting the entire US, and the Pacific Northwest in particular.
2) The building I work in has a low income health clinic a few doors down. Outside the door during one of my cigarette breaks was a little girl spinning in circles saying, "Look, Mommy. I'm a tornado."
3) On a later cigarette break, I heard from the rush hour traffic on the street about half a block from our office someone screaming, "Asshole! You're an asshole!"
4) Rusty Barnes has an office on Zoetrope where there are monthly "flash floods," which are much shorter versions of flash-a-thons. He provided a prompt of blue guitar and snow. Blue guitar made me think of Picasso's guitar paintings and blue period.

Toss all of those into a blender and you can see where "Picasso Burns" came from. But now, for the moment anyway, my puzzle box is empty. And even if it were full, I'd worry that I was forcing the pieces together. Looking for characters and stories sometimes reminds me of looking for love. Love always seems to strike when you aren't particularly expecting it. Stories are often the same way. My favorite moments of writing are what Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. refers to as "taking dictation from God." In those moments, I'm little more than a conduit for a story that the universe already wants told. I just happen to be there as the story's medium. In between those glorious times, I keep slamming words at the page, hoping that something sticks. But to be good enough to be that conduit for the universe's stories, I have to keep writing at the times that the universe is silent. Or rather, I have to keep writing at the times when my ears are, for some reason, plugged to the universe's noise.

Sounds new-agey, I suppose. But think of it again in terms of looking for love and it makes sense. Stories, like love, find us when we're ready, not necessarily when we think we're ready.


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