I’ve been invited by writer, performer and activist Nikki Patin to participate in an interview series called The Next Big Thing in which authors talk about their work. (Thanks, Nikki!) You can check out what Nikki’s up to at nikkipatin.com. Since I’m kind of new at this interview thing, I’ve asked my friend Lindsay to weigh in. Welcome, Lindsay! Let’s go! Continue reading The Next Big Thing
And Now, the Octopus
I’m working on a chapter that’s based on a monologue I performed a few years ago at Live Bait Theater in Chicago. Every summer, my friend Tekki, the artistic director of Tellin’ Tales Theatre, curates an evening of solo performance based on a theme. That particular year she titled the show “Potholes on the Path to Enlightenment,” and she asked us to write about an epiphany. That’s not really so hard, I thought: almost every story is about some kind of discovery – some little or big a ha! But she wanted it to be something pretty major, something that could, like, change your life. When I started working on the piece, I became a little obsessed with octopuses. For weeks, I read and wrote about octopuses. (By the way, octopuses is the correct plural – either that or octopodes. Octopi is frowned on by most references because the –pus derives from Greek and not Latin.) I wrote about an octopus I remembered from Sesame Street, which I watched as a kid. A man’s voice said, “And now, the octopus,” then this octopus swam around a tank for a minute, and that was it. Anyway, I was trying to write this piece about epiphany; I thought I should be writing about God, transcendence, the search for meaning, and I kept coming back to the octopus.
Figuring out what my brain is onto is one of my favorite parts of writing. The work is making clear the dot-to-dot of connections I’ve made in my head and finding a way to take the reader along on the journey. I don’t want to make it all too obvious or the reading won’t be any fun. But I can’t make it too obscure either – I can’t lead the reader into the woods and leave them with no trail to find their way back. I want the reader to make the discoveries I made in the living and the writing of the story – in this piece, for example, how the search for God and meaning relates to octopuses (also Clash of the Titans and Esther Williams).
An epiphany is an insight that comes about because of something ordinary. I probably watched my octopus on Sesame Street every day. It was ordinary. But the octopus itself, all rippling flesh and unfurling suckers was extraordinary. The octopus was an epiphany billowing across our black and white TV. It said, wake up! Look at what’s out here in the world. Look and look and look.
Tell me, friends. What is it that makes you wake up and look?
tarry a moment
My evil genius Procrastination has whispered me to tarry ’til a more convenient season.
Mary Todd Lincoln
Oh, Mary Todd, you were so right. Procrastination is an evil genius. Once I procrastinated by looking up procrastination. It derives from the Latin, procrastinare, to delay until tomorrow. Synonyms: delay, put off doing, adjourn, be dilatory, cool, dally, dawdle, defer, drag, drag one’s feet, give the run around, goldbrick, hang fire, hesitate, hold off, lag, let slide, linger, loiter, pause, play a waiting game, play for time, poke, postpone, prolong, protract, retard, shilly-shally, stall, stay, suspend, tarry, temporize, wait…
I am actually not procrastinating today. At least not right this minute. I’m writing this blog post just like I said I would, and then I’m going to work on revisions for chapters one and two of The Saltwater Twin. But sometimes I do. Procrastinate. It happens. And it comes in so many flavors. Here, for your delectation, or in case you are interested in procrastinating yourself, are some of my favorite interwebs spots to visit when I ought to be doing other things.
At the speech accent archive you can listen to people speaking English with almost any accent under the sun. Why do I love this so much? I don’t know. But I do.
Here are the sounds of so many kinds of animals. Extra fun: turn up the volume if you have a dog (maybe even a cat) and watch him cock his head to the side. Also, here’s where to find out what people say in different languages to mimic animal sounds.
Watch the All Blacks rugby team doing the haka on youtube. This makes me very happy.
At freerice.com you can take quizzes and donate rice. Genius.
Browse etsy.com to buy one of a kind things and support artisans and craftspeople all over the world.
Look at cute animals. It raises your endorphins. So it’s actually good for you. And it will probably help you do a better job on whatever it is you finally intend to get around to doing.
I think a little procrastination is okay. Growing crops season after season without a break depletes the soil. Farmers let a field lie fallow to allow the land to renew itself. So I try not to be mad at myself when procrastination happens, and I try to build in some time for it so I don’t snap and go on a three-day bender.
How about you? Favorite flavors of procrastinating?
finding the trail
Friends, I love me some research.
It’s just so satisfying finding stuff out about stuff.
While writing this latest chapter, I’ve looked up the paleo-diet which recommends that you eat the way our Paleolithic hunter-gatherer ancestors supposedly did (my favorite proponent is this guy whose catchphrase is “Die biting the throat;” you can get it on a t-shirt!), Isaiah 11: 6-8 (The wolf shall lie down with the lamb and so on), Quakers, how long it takes to grill a rare steak, if fish are capable of feeling pain, evolution and natural selection and, as I wrote about in this space a couple weeks ago, predatory animals, especially the ones that sometimes eat humans.
I’ve come to think that even if it seems like procrastination at times, research is a fundamental part of my writing process. I’m trying to emulate one those super wilderness scouts who can look at the-ever-so-slightly-bent twig or the barely-there footprint and gauge exactly how far off whatever you’re looking for is and what it had for lunch.
Admittedly, I do sometimes get a bit sidetracked. The other day I was looking up Edward Hicks’ famous painting “The Peaceable Kingdom,” which my mom always used to take us to see at the National Gallery of Art in D.C., and which always fascinated me not only because of the animals’ really odd expressions but also because they were playing with those weird-looking, early American folk art babies…
and then I had to read about Quakers because Edward Hicks was a famous Quaker and then I started thinking, wow, I’ve always thought Quakers were really cool and maybe I should be a Quaker and then I started looking up Quaker meetings in Chicago —
that was maybe a tich off the beaten path.
So I try to balance research and writing. But when I stumble across some semi-hidden sign, catch a trace scent in the air that leads me to a brand new thought or connection or story, it’s really kind of thrilling. I don’t know if I’ll find exactly what I’m looking for (a thorough understanding of why and how everything in the
world universe is what it is and does what it does) but at least I’ll have an account of the expedition.