Writing, Books, Painting, Politics, Neuroplasticity
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Words into Stories

Sometimes words are like smooth pebbles, separate and stubborn, refusing to mesh and blend.  They sit dry and separate on the page as if scattered, alien, across a field or a parking lot.  Their smoothness attests to the fact that they have known water; they have been caressed and shaped by flowing liquid, just as words—once rough grunts and utterances–have been caressed and shaped by their journey through billions of human minds over eons.  But these same words often sit, inert, stubbornly apart, unwilling or unable to flavor one another; unable to build, to join, to mingle and sing.

At other times, in my case, Writing Woman (as I like to call her, the writer within) provides a medium like water:  cool, clear, refractive:  melding these many-veined and variously-flecked entities into a unity capable of entering the mind of a reader as a smooth, powerful vista.   She draws the pebbles together under the rule of some principal (generally unknown to Me), and they come alive as in a swift-swirling stream, or wave-washed on a sandy shore.  Their miniscule, many-hued mineral grains sparkle and transmute into a picture; a voice; Meaning.

Last spring, my writing students came to me full of Story, and in those stories the words all pointed in one direction, magnetized by each student’s unique vision.  Our work as critiquers was to mirror, to the writer, those parts that deflected us, the readers, from that course, from the water’s cool,  invisible, illuminating lens.  There was no cookie cutter sameness about these stories!  Each crackled with its own energy; each was a unique world.  They required no “writing exercises” to get them going. 

But if I were to assign one exercise, it would be this:

Write for an hour a day.

Wait—I hear excuses!  “I can’t—there’s not—“ 

But you can, and there is.  You can write, and there is time. 

It might not take you an hour to leave self-consciousness and editing—the rough work of backing the boat trailer into the water or driving the kayak to the shore—behind and reach that exhilarating launch into the pure gliding motion that is writing.  Your own voice is always there.  Your conscious job is to give it time and space to launch, for your brain to move into that space, and then, you are flying.  It may be good, bad, or indifferent, but trust that it is there.  The desire to write (or paint, or photograph; sing, or act) makes itself known because there is something there, waiting or agitating for that space.  The first minutes, or half hour, whatever, are rocky.  Your brain is refocusing.  Inhibition is turned off, and the part of the brain that improvises—a portion of the prefrontal cortex—is unshackled.   Dr. Limb at Johns Hopkins has done fMRI studies on the brains of jazz musicians that show, precisely, what happens during this process and where it happens in the brain.  Writers, unlike musicians performing live, have the option of editing later. 

So have no fear.  Clear some space, and just write.  This writing time, this hour, is your practice.  Like a musician who is practicing, you will make mistakes.  Sometimes (as in jazz improvisation, for instance)the misstep, the discordant note or phrase, is not a mistake.  It is a new, important direction, something pointing to the infinite space outside of your preset editing parameters.  It is a time of discovery and illumination.

It melds the disparate into something with its own integrity, something more than the sum of its parts:  a story.

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2 comments

1 Amy Hibberd { 07.04.11 at 10:54 AM }

You are Divinely Sent! I am ghosting a blog for a speaker I am helping to launch–lost as ‘her,’ I am paralyzed, sipping tea and shopping for inspiration–you, as usual, nailed it. You are a blessing in my life–little legs, dappled summer sun, blow up pool and matching umbrella suits and all. Mom wants to know hwere he got the puzzle? XO,
Amy Over Here Not So Far

2 Kathleen Goonan { 07.04.11 at 12:21 PM }

Amy! YOU are Divinely Sent! At a later instant, acres of water and acres of screaming kids at the public pool, and walking down Belvo Road to get milk from the farm on the corner with the huge barn and fishing in the creek with safety pins. So quiet out there! I got the puzzle from the NY Times store, but there are many online sites that make jigsaw puzzles from zip code. Make sure not to get the topo map–the bluffs above the river are just brown lines on a beige background. Devilishly puzzling.

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