Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Feed your Head

"Remember what the door mouse said
Feed your head
Feed your head
Feed your head.”
“White Rabbit”
Jefferson Airplane

I’m writing this at the Starbucks in the Augusta Mall. I like the Starbucks at the mall because its always filled with young people. There is a cocky energy in the air that fires me up. It helps me write. Even though I come here to crawl as far into my head as I can, the buzz of human voices, the smooth leggy girls in their summer shorts (I was born way, way too early), feed the energy inside me.

In the old days when I lived on the road, I loved to sit in the small town coffee shops in Mississippi and Arkansas and listen to the locals talk. Old men in feed store caps fussing about the direction the country was going. Working men stopping in to sit at the counter and flirt with the waitress, whose name would be pinned to the swell of her left breast on a plastic tag that says "Dolly" or "Mavis". She would come over, lean down - I pretend not to sneak a look at her cleavage - as she hesitates with the Bunn coffee pot over my china mug and purrs "Warm you up, honey?" Oh yes, anytime.

The coffee shops have a timeless quality, like a village square. I go there with the human crowd wherever they can be found, to feed off their hum and laughter, until I feel the flames begin to spring up and open the doors inside. Some day’s the doors open up easy and surprise me. Other days they seem fastened tight as if I have been exiled from myself. When they're fastened tight, it gets tricky and you have to find ways to pry them open. Tricks of the trade. People like to ask creative people “where do you get your ideas?" Here’s how it works for me.

Ray Bradbury's first published story was a short story called "The Lake". He sat down at a typewriter and at the top of the page typed the words "The Lake". That was it. He didn’t know what the story was about, he just typed the words and asked himself what the title meant. That's one trick. My story "The Lady and the Unicorn" started that way. All I had was the title and I knew what the story had to accomplish, and I knew I liked the title but I didn’t know what the story was going to be about. I conjured with the title for days, saying the words out loud and waiting for it to mean something. One day it I heard a tent revival on the radio and I had my story. I have the title for another story "The Frog and the Scorpion". I don’t know what the story will be yet. I'm still waiting. I have another title "Kisses the Color of Thunder", which I know will be about a person with a brain disorder called synesthesia. That's all I know. I just have faith that someday I’ll know the rest. That door hasn’t opened yet. I just have faith.

A fiction writer without faith is in trouble. I think that's why so many fiction writer's come from religious backgrounds, especially when religion has failed them. In my disappointment with God I've sometimes tried to shed myself of religious feelings, but when I do I find I can’t write. The writing and the spirituality both spring from the same source. I can get angry at God, as angry as one of my characters, but I can’t escape God without paying the price. I can’t close that door without closing other doors.

There are other ways of opening the inner doors too. I stitch things together syncretistically. I steal them out of whatever is floating in the air. A tent revival on the radio. A line in a poem. Sometimes I'll take a book of poems, crack it open at random and read the first line I see. If it rings a bell I start with that. If it doesn’t, I roll the dice again. I do that when I get stuck in a story too and don’t know where to go. Take a book from the shelf, open it randomly and jump off the first paragraph that catches my imagination.

When I'm stuck for ideas I still try to bench press 1000 words a day and I have a chart to keep track of it. Hemingway did this too, and wrote his daily word counts on the wall with a pencil "so I don’t kid myself". When there's nothing in the works I do writing exercises. In Susie Brights book on craft "How to Write a Dirty Story" she has the following exercise. Dig:

". . .Give yourself two minutes to answer the following questions. When your time is up, stop, even if you haven’t finished your sentence:

1. Write down an erotic fantasy about a sexual experience that you would have in a minute if it were offered to you, no questions asked. It should be something you would have no reservations or conditions about doing in real life.

2. Write down a erotic fantasy about a sexual experience that you would have only under certain conditions. You could give yourself up wholeheartedly under these conditions but otherwise not at all.

3. Write down an erotic fantasy about a sexual experience that is completely satisfying to you in your imagination, but that you could not do because it it s either physically impossible or something you could never bring yourself to do in real life. . .Yet in your mind it is hot and fulfilling. . . .”

Isn’t that intriguing?

Number three yielded up a story for me. When I answered the question about the impossible dream, I decided I would like to be a woman for one day. A real woman, and feel the sexual sensations and emotions of a woman. I would explore my body, masturbate, maybe try it with a man to see what that feels like. For one day. I picked up Kafka's story "the Metamorphosis" and wrote a sequel where a man wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into a woman, his sister as it turns out, and has to figure out what to do with himself. This is the same man, Gregor Samsa, who had previously been transformed into a cockroach.

Feed your head. Add to the constant compost of ideas until something links, and when it links run with it. In the early drafts no idea is too dumb. And even a dumb idea can become something later. "Miss Julia's Cake Club" was inspired from a vintage ad in a cookie cookbook for "Good Luck Margarine". "The Dying Light" began with me imagining myself as an old man writing in a diary with a fountain pen, the way I did was a very young man. I remember my sexual fantasies and use those for exercises all the time. At first it’s difficult, the mind hesitates to open that door lest others look inside and see how creepy I am, but I tell myself "This is just for me." It is too, but I keep them. You never know what’s going to work someday.

As to the original theme, are we writer's opening doors culturally? In my opinion, no. I think those doors were opened years ago by people who paid a terrible price for it. Some of us still pay a price. A couple of the original writers on this blog dropped out because they were "outed" and persecuted by prudish busybodies who made life miserable for them It can happen to any of us. Where do these people come from? In my experience, they come from magical thinking. The feeling of God watching over you is very powerful, the feeling that you are fighting for God, and defending His purity in the world. I'm not convinced that censorship comes from sexual repression alone, though often the most conservative politicians are caught doing the weirdest things. Republican senators Larry Craig, and Governor Eliot Spitzer, and Mark Sanford come to mind. All of them were vocal dictators of Christian morality to the rest of us, and there is a certain nasty glee in seeing them brought down. Times have definitely changed for the better. In my life time people were sent to prison for going through customs with a copy of "Tropic of Cancer" in the bottom of their suitcases. Now you can read it online for free at Google Books. History is on the side of the enabling of the individual. It is on the side of continuously opening doors. At least we can say we’re on the right side of history.


  1. Hi Garce,

    Fatnastic post (as always). You raise some interesting points and articulate some strong and well paced arguments. I couldn't argue with this even if I had a different opinion.



  2. Hi Garce,

    I agree with your post this week, and I even understand it, so I feel doubly good. LOL

    I like to hear where your ideas come from, I think it's that way for all of us- some small, innocent thing we witness becomes something much larger in our minds. I, too, have sat down with a title in mind and built a story around it. That's fun, IMO.

    Thanks for sharing your lovely thoughts today.


    ~ Jenna

  3. Hi Garce,

    I bristled just a little when I read the bit about many fiction writers come from religious backgrounds, but then took a breath. I really couldn't tell you if that's a correct assumption or not. I can only speak for myself in that regard.

    You get your ideas in much the same way I do. A book, a snippet of news, a line in some newspaper or the conversation I heard while shopping. Some fly, some fall flat, but ideas keep coming from all over.

    An interesting post, and as usual, thought provoking. Thanks so much for sharing this.


  4. Hi Ashley!

    Thanks for reading my stuff. I wasn;t sure what to write about on this subject, because it was similar to the very first post I ever made here, so I thought I'd talk about the inner doors more. Its a good topic, just wasn;t sure what to say.


  5. Hi Jenna!

    Yes, this week wasn;t as weird as usual. Hopefully next week back to weird.


  6. Hey Jude

    I guess its true that I'm speaking for myself as far as religion which has been the great bugaboo of my life. Its not true for everybody, but I think its true for quite a few. I think it also affects what you write best about. I think each writer has some unique area inside, where all the interesting demons are. Someone, I think Poppy Brite, said that writing is where you go to explore your obsessions. I always find when i go to where the demons are inside, that's when i write closest to my soul, and I guess that's religion. That's the stuff that I find myself writing that moves me. But it'll be different for each person, true.


  7. Hi, Garce,

    I wish I had your ideas. I do agree with your comments about needing to have faith that the story will come. More and more these days I am just sitting down and letting the story tell itself, asking the characters, "Ok, now what?"

    Religion and fiction? I'm not sure that's the right connection. Maybe what's more important is the conviction (or maybe just the sneaking suspicion) that the "real" world, the material world that we're supposed to take so seriously, is not all there is. That there's a vast domain of mind/spirit/emotion to explore, every bit as "real" as your cup of Starbucks decaf.


  8. Great post, Garceus. Your religious dimension does come through in so much of your writing lending a rather mystical air to the atmosphere.

    Religion is a hot and controversial topic. Though I will say that I could dedicate a room in my pleasure palace to the buttons pushed by the nuns and priests from long ago...if there weren't rules to break, then why would I ever deserve a spanking?

  9. Hi Lisabet! Wherever you are . . .

    ". . that the "real" world, the material world that we're supposed to take so seriously, is not all there is. . . "

    Well, that's the big question isn;t it? Some days I think it is all there is. Other days I think there's more going on then we're able to know. You have more faith than I do. I just hope whatever the answer is, that kindness is a part of it.


  10. Goddess of Jicky;

    There you go with the spanking. You kinky Catholic girls, you and Anne Rice.

    I think religion is at the heart of my writing, at least the stories that mean something. You know me.


  11. My hubby wants to feed my head every day. My fantasy is I made a mistake and it wasn't him today!


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