Saturday, June 4, 2011

Inspiration: (noun)

He's about five foot ten, faint green eyes, with an eloquent, kissable mouth. His face is tremendously expressive, yet subtle, as quick to register humour as it is to show wrath and determination. His hands, too, speak volumes: criss-crossed by scars, burns and ink stains, adorned with long fingers rendered flat and numb from hard labour, and though they have a natural tendency toward artistry and tenderness, now he more often folds them into fists or jams them into his pockets. He's moody but observant to the point of paranoia, frustrated and hyperactive, plagued by nightmares, anguished by unrequited love...When his accusing eye gleams on a foggy night, the heart trips and the guilty tremble...

And I confess! I still lose sleep at night, fantasizing about who's going to star in the made-for-TV movie based on my bestseller. Of course, I guess the John "Mummer" Stillman series still needs to land a buyer before we get that far, but a girl can dream!

And just once, I want to step into the subway, catch someone in the act of reading a book I wrote, and sign it. Random acts of autographia.

Don't get me wrong. I meant what I said about writing for the love of story (and audience). But even without fame and fortune (ha!), there are still some good old fashioned selfish reasons why I love to write.

First of all, writing is mental exercise - for me, writing can be anything from a nightly constitutional to a 100-metre dash to a full-out triathalon. And like exercise, it usually starts with a lot of complaining, but the more often I do it, the easier it gets. There's also the sense of accomplishment (a.k.a. self-satisfaction) at having shut off the TV or video games or Facebook and created something.

And like exercise, it's very slimming. The writer's craft is the art of meaning as much as possible and saying it as powerfully and economically as possible. When practiced, this skill tends to carry over into other facets of your life. For me, I find that after a tough and honest morning of editing, my brain is charged with moxie, oxygen and endorphins. At work I'm more likely to see through jargon, systemic panic and red herrings, and I'll be more likely to find the root cause of any problem that comes up. The solutions I find are bound to be a lot more daring and creative, too.

But I think the one thing I enjoy most about being an active writer is the curious way it turns your brain inside out. It sharpens your senses. It makes you thoughtful.

If I'm having a tough day at work and I take a walk around the block, I'll get some fresh air and exercise. It settles me down. When I get back, I may even have the solution I was missing all along. But elephants could have been parading down the street and I wouldn't have noticed.

But if I've been writing and I walk around the block, I am in the world. I hear the birds. I notice which flowers are in bloom and which ones have gone to seed. I watch people pick tokens from change purses to put in the fare box, while the bus driver checks the rear view mirror and glares at teens cavorting in the back seats. Times like those, I wonder, "What would happen if these people were trapped on this bus with a man who suddenly lurched to his feet and started to glow?"

From the sidewalk, I peer through windows and marvel at the artwork on walls, or admire the warm colours of a foyer, and I wonder what kind of people live here - are they happy? Are they overworked? Did they earn this wealth, or are they Old Money? Do they have some loner who rents out the basement, but is in reality a reluctant time traveler...?

I smile as passersby converse with home owners, and giggle at women in high heels and tight skirts as they try to wiggle out of their boyfriends' low-slung cars with their dignity intact. On the street, no conversation is private. Everything is fair game, from the disheveled woman who sells postcard watercolours and speaks only in grunts, to the cub and cougar who sit knee to knee on the terrasse, to the philosophical shouting matches at the cafe.

I pass by the Greek Consulate and listen to the sounds of the outdoor party, wondering, "how do people get invited to these things?" and "what happens when they're there?" Even as I walk, I have my easel before me and my brush in hand. There's a word for this kind of giggle ("laughter arcs and bounces over the gaggle of conversation") versus that kind of laugh ("a bolt of laughter strikes the room mute"). I record the music of the ebb and tide of natural conversation, and memorize the accompaniment of tinkling silverware and clattering dishes. I spy the obligatory black dresses and suits and ties, and while it's all very sleek, I wonder what would happen if someone dared wear scarlet or purple - or yellow, or green!

I collect these impressions like shells and robins eggs and take them home with me, maybe to use in some story, maybe not. I paint the world in action and sound - vocabulary is my impressionism, and open air is my inspiration.

But most of all, because I'm writing (even if I don't have a pen and paper in hand), I am, in effect, making memories. We judge the fullness of time by the number of our memories; the more mile markers, the further we seem to have come. I don't feel like time is passing me by anymore. I have something to show for the time that has passed.

So get outdoors, dear writer. Turn off the TV, put on some shoes, take your coffee outside. Engage strangers in conversation. Listen. Smell. See something you never noticed before. Frame this moment in words - and when you have some words, find better ones. Share with someone your impressions, so that they can effectively replicate in their mind's eye what you see. Even if you never touch pen to paper, you won't regret the experience.


Inspiration: (noun)
1) The process of being mentally stimulated to do or feel something, esp. to do something creative.
2) A sudden brilliant, creative, or timely idea.
3) The drawing in of breath.

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