.…She came into its possession without knowledge of it, the creek riffling over her feet, about her ankles as she waded out farther to meet her mother. Their baskets swung on their arms and made a good hard sound with their cargo, small rocks clicking together, blushing in the sunlight. The forest gave enough light and cover as they pressed on, backs bent more often than not. Sika dawdled , then lifted her foot enough so her pointed toes spun a watery circle over the darkening bed of stones. And then and there it showed itself.
This paragraph arrived in my consciousness in three pieces over the last three days–as well as names of more characters, not including the mother who remains nameless now, or forever. But I know what Sika found: that was the very first thing, how an image came to me so clearly it was as if I saw it up close, felt its presence on my very skin. It holds strong energy; it has not left me. Last night, late, I scribbled more of the above on a scrap. It may turn into more greater or lesser; it may even fizzle. We shall see.
But how did this all come to me? Does it even matter? Is there a best way to open up that wellspring of creative energies?
I often hear writers and others debate and share how ideas flow. Many ask: from where does “enough” inspiration arise to not only begin but to keep on? How do we keep that drive going? “Creatives” in all mediums seek inspiration as we usher into fullness of being some subject or image or hypothetical situation we find stubbornly interesting, disturbing, surprising, enthralling. We share so many sources and yet bring our individuality to each experience. The process of making something grows with us or without us entirely at the helm, but it must begin. Indeed, we welcome it with a door or more flung open.
And that is the start of it; being wide open, even vulnerable to experiences, ideas, dreams and visions, to people and place. It requires attention. This requires willingness to attend to what is happening all about, as well as to the insides of ourselves and others.
We can hope to know ourselves better and better as time goes on, if we maintain enough steadiness in turbulent times, can be honest and alert to the variables of our days and nights. We have an emotional barometer, and it can be well used not only for well being but for big creative output. I am, like it or not, one who can sit with the darkness, the unknown or difficult, but also be ready and able to turn on the light when the signals I experience require more information, fast action. Meaning, I am ready to be “on”, ready to face fears. I am not passive or, rather, I also perceive the waiting state of mind as receptive, awake to potential moments. I have a lifetime of being aware of activity internally and externally, sometimes out of a need to survive, but mostly out of the desire to be present in this life.
This readiness alone gives me a surplus of ideas and energies with which to work. And I suspect this is a common characteristic of creative persons. We want to know more, are willing to feel a wide spectrum of emotion, we want to seek out possibilities, solutions. And we want to participate somehow in the discovery process, even if it is making possible a basic translation of an experience. We also have an urge to “re-do”–make something more or less or different of it. And, finally, when we determine it is enough for that round, we might hope to reveal what we have made of various fragments gathered together. That basic curiosity and the urgency to engage with material of all sorts (and even other people) underlies much of our creative impulses, like a foundation for a building.
We can know our own personhood with effort and time. But can we truly know others by sheer observation and interaction? We have vivid or hazy glimpses of people and events. There are many ways in which to do this. I have a few.
The senses come first, no doubt, for most: we hear, see, smell, taste, touch. If I sit next to a stranger on a plane, for example, I likely will touch little to none; taste will not enter into the data except for how smell may trigger a subtle taste counterpart. So, then: a man’s bulk or lack of it; an odor of perspiration or cigarettes, booze or mints or cologne; the expression when he took his seat, if he gazed out the window, the focus with which studied his computer or book or did not; his clothing choice and condition; the tone and timbre of voice when speaking to a flight attendant or me, plus any automatic sounds emitted. His posture, the way he moves, gets up and down, if with consideration, stiffness of movement, or a lack of awareness of others’ personal space. And there is mood, which often can be discerned by the above observations. His body turned away from me and others, his coat pulled close about him. Or simply being still until a feeling comes about the person. We all feel some sort of energy of a person and it informs much of what we do or say. Other clues might be what he is reading if it can be glimpsed. Or if he avoids eye contact or sleeps the whole trip and loudly so. If he chats with comfortably–or better yet, shares fascinating info. If I choose to politely ignore the person after a cursory glance (on a plane, often a good idea), that’s fine. But something has registered with me.
There is an impression made, formed by all of it, and quite quickly. We make note right off, may observe more later. People offer strong impressions for me, and I take with me those I want or need to keep to consider further. Overheard conversations are like gold, as well. A writer keeps a mental catalog of emotional nuances, behaviors, speech and appearance on file. These can bring to the fore ideas for fictional renderings. But it is never boring to observe others. It might seem nosy. It is perhaps aligned with detective work, but we don’t realize we’re doing it.
Because I am a quite visual person–I think in pictures, generally; I am drawn to form, color, design, smallest details; my memory is stuffed with scenes or “movies” as I well recall what I saw (or best I can)–I gather clues and cues about life this way. I am happy with camera in hand, gravitating to this angle or that snippet of view or the thing that kid is doing with her hands or face as she walks by. These photographic slices of life are squirreled away in mind, as well. Many a visual clue leads to a short or long story, often a poem. Just one photo can do it, even a minor shot, and when I see it again, I begin to wonder. Many posts on WordPress start this way, and in workshops if I am given a picture or an object, I am off and running with an unfolding story line almost immediately.
Music can be a great trigger for language to flow meaningfully, though music reaches me at a level beyond language. It finds my soul, and I associate that intertwining less with language and more with experiences that cannot be described easily. Still, music impacts mood or clarifies thinking. It also may provide a neutral background “canvas” upon which a exchange of form and colors, scene and ambiance unfold via heart, mind and language; it can both settle and open things up. I tend to write for hours in silence but if I play any music it is classical or jazz, and quietly. No lyrics–no, not words. I supply words needed and cannot afford to be sidetracked by another person’s story when I work.
Walking and hiking are great release agents of creative flow. I have written countless poems while walking or climbing and tend to record them on my phone as I go. Perhaps it is the rhythm of legs and arms in motion. The heart pumps, purposeful feet push off the earth while also noting its vagaries, oxygen enters the blood stream differently than when sitting. I feel more alive in the wide open–even if it is city’s open spaces I traverse. I do prefer woods, mountains, rivers and ocean. It is the deep breaths of fresh air, the variety of scenes. A stirring sense of unity with all life expands and intensifies with dopamine and serotonin levels rising. And words and images come and go in my head as I move at a fast clip–or pause to observe more closely the fine, symmetrical veins of a curling leaf, the flicking plume of scurrying squirrel’s tail. I embrace God’s presence even better outdoors. I feel my humbling insignificance, but am more free. These are good things to experience for me as a writer. I would rather be a conduit for language, for story than a holding tank for my more tedious or redundant thoughts.
And yet. There is abundance right inside us. What we create comes from the reservoir of our history as well as current mode of living. We can conclude that the vast interior of our beings includes billions (depending on one’s age) of bits of information that can meld sufficiently to birth more words, images, ideas and feelings. A sentence, an idea, a paragraph or picture; a conglomeration of particles of stuff that construe a whole work, an entire story. We bring ourselves to every moment we create, within a context of countless other lives and a humongous variety of experiences. It is a treasure trove, the sprawl of humanity. All we have to do is pluck what we desire to use as it bubbles upward into our conscious view. Perhaps we may forget where the essence of that useful moment originated. Or we recall only too well. It matters less than what can be done with it anew.
Have you ever been inside a prison, talked with inmates about life, like I have? Use it. Have you ever seen hundreds of tundra swans in a muddy winter field, as I did? Use that. Have you been up most of the night crying and watched your windowpanes change from claustrophobic black to radiant silvery light and felt relief again? Use it, too. Have you loved so hard that, despite knowing it might be an error, you gave over to it, suddenly afire? Use this. Have you passed by a street youth smudged with dirt and despair, slouched on a doorstep, then quietly gave every dollar in your pocket– even though you didn’t know what the money could do? Use this. Or have you sat in the top of an old maple tree as a child and wished with every fiber you could fly beyond the houses, beyond the city, beyond ordinary times and into the universe? Into one extraordinary moment–and there it came like magic, just like that for you, inside you? That is imagination. It needs you to use it to stay alive and well.
Take out the tools of language–or art of any sort. Put them to work in the faith that something will come of the exercise.
But back to kinds of wellsprings. What to make of the times I hear a word clearly in my head and it won’t let loose? Or a heretofore unknown character walks across the stage of my mind and starts to “speak” as though in a play already made and I am the audience? What of the entire sentence or paragraph that comes to me like it floated up from the depths, as if down a long river and then it got off its little boat to visit me? Here, it says, is a small bundle of words for a bloom of a poem, a scene for a story; now take it and poke around, turn it inside out or about for a few good ways to use it. Let the language live and breathe, move and sing, unlock and awaken.
That is the Muse. That is the wonder of being possessed of the passion to create. I can be dogged by these ideas and scenes until I sit down to write. I can dream of them night and day, then find they are already transforming, often long before I put the letters to wide, white space for a landscape in the making.
But I also can sit with one hand resting on the keyboard, mind simmering with too much or mind wan and blank as the other hand pushes hair out of my eyes. And then I write something. Anything that seems an okay way to start. Then I write another few words that connect to become a sentence. I can manage this because I have done it for well over sixty years. It is the fruit of hard-won discipline as well as tremendous energy of love for Story.
So where did that first paragraph at the start of this come from, one that may be a new story? It might come from thinking of or seeing rocks my husband seeks for their uniqueness, that my son hunts for their hidden crystalline beauty and my sister roots around for, for their capacity to become animals she creates by painting them. It might come from the love for my mother and daughters. And the powers of nature at hand any time we pay heed. A wonder I feel, for living life deeply with appreciation and determination. Joy, and a willingness to see what arrives next.
What did this unknown character who claims the odd name Sika Standalone find–or what has found her? I know something, but I don’t yet know what it can mean to her greater story or to the shadowy characters nearby–Aubra Tinnert, “Mischief” Mannerlin– or to Sika’s mother, quietly bent over the darkly gleaming rocks under creek water. Why is she gathering all these? Do they need them for trade, for protection, for entry into somewhere, for an offering to–what? My curiosity will lead me on.
I don’t really write fantasy. I don’t know what this is about. But the words will take me there. Or somewhere else altogether. I know enough to trust that much. And I am compelled to stay with it, shape the rawness into something definable. I keep at it despite not making money from my efforts over decades, nor publishing a great deal. I am just a writer and thus, in cahoots with language so as to write.
Lucky me, I must add. How terribly fortunate to be possessed of such a passion as this.