Sunday, August 11, 2013

Live. Then write.

On January 1, 2013, Jonathan and I spent New Year's in London. It was mostly awful, involving a long period of standing, a brief moment of amazing fireworks, lots of drunk people, urination in the streets, and an uncomfortable walk home in the rain, during which I cried. It was a rare look at life and the human experience. Perspective, culture, crowd mentality, the ins and outs of celebration on a massive scale, general debauchery: awesome raw and writerly stuff.

In the same trip, we went to the Ashmolean Museum and the Pitt Rivers Museum, and recently, we went to the High Museum here in Atlanta. Art, whether ancient or modern, crude or refined, can cure a common disease of the writer's mind: The Funk of Sameness. Probably every writer catches it at some point, but going to museums can make you better. The beautiful, weird, haughty, unintelligible, moving, remarkable, mysterious stuff there gives fresh perspective on life and how some people look at it, which is also a cure for the even more deadly virus known as Everything Is Just As I See It.

But travels and museum trips are only once in a while. Usually, I can't spend lots of money on costly experiences. Still, I must get outside of the normal brain space, even in order to see my own space clearly. Anything from planting flowers to building a Lego castle to designing a work space--anything that forces you to decide how you'd like an end product to come out and what it will take to make it happen--lights up new parts of the brain. These are sort of like cousins to writing. They organize something besides words and result in something besides stories. My outlets: taking and editing pictures, sketching cats, and trying on clothes I'd never wear in public, i.e. pretending to be someone else.

Perhaps most writerly of all is leaving your house and interacting with real, honest-to-goodness humans. Below you'll see two new friends I made this year. Seeing things through their eyes is another cure for the two diseases mentioned above. Next you'll see me facing the passage of time as I hug my oldest nephew who's heading into his adult future. Look into my eyes. See it? A little light is going out (fear not--there is magnificent creativity in those dark spaces!). In the last image, I'm catching up with an old friend. We've just had food and drink and shared a little bit of our lives. Whatever your stories are about, they're almost always about people. That's why knowing people is an exceptionally writerly thing to do.

The friendships, the adventures, the loud and shiny moments: Every day isn't like that. Most days are quiet and normal. But within the normal, too, perhaps especially, lies universal experience, that quiet everything, that dark matter between the shining moments. A new globe, an old movie, furry friends, time spent writing pen-pals, seeing an owl in the wild for the first time, that wisp of an hour spent listening to bluegrass in the park, cooking peach cobbler, celebrating big news about my favorite time-travel show by wearing too hot socks on a too hot summer day. All writerly.

For most, writing isn't life; writing is about life. It connects us, helps us heal, takes us on adventures, lets us use our powers to create. But writing is only as good as the writer's own experiences and imaginings, which require fuel. That's why the best advice I can give to writers just starting or writers just finishing is to live, then write. (No really, don't forget to write!)


“A little talent is a good thing to have if you want to be a writer. But the only real requirement is the ability to remember every scar.” Stephen King

“The soul should always stand ajar, ready to welcome the ecstatic experience.” Emily Dickinson

“Poetry is just the evidence of life. If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash.” Leonard Cohen