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All content copyright 2010 by Chelsea Biondolillo. Seriously.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

365 days of being a writer: day 213

Happy Saint Patrick's Day. Rather than dwell on the fact that my jerky piece-of-shit cat totally blew his chance to live with a nice little hipster couple and their adorable looking stray cat, about which I am bitter AND disappointed, I would instead like to talk about synchronicity and jet streams of inspiration.

I've already linked to the great TED talk that Elizabeth Gilbert gave on creativity. Even though she is the author of what is right now almost the last book in the world I want to read, Gilbert says some things about genius and the creative process that resonate with me.

Such that, I have tried, in my way, to anthropomorphize my process a bit. It isn't adopting a new belief in so much as it's being open minded to different ways of interpreting the facts at hand. I could see a knocked-over garbage can on the street and think about the rotten hoodlums who must have torn through the neighborhood or I could wonder about the wind I must have missed, or the curious tip-overable shape of the bins in this city. It's about framing, rather than deciding to believe in genies. I have no idea why I just typed a whole paragraph of justification, but I'll let it be. (More after the jump...)

All this to say, that this morning I woke up on time (I've been doing that lately, and I like it) and I had a few moments to work on my Blackbird essay. Not enough time to change much, but I didn't want to miss the time, so I hatched a plan of attack while I showered. This essay has been frustrating me, because I know it has no "arc"--there is no reason for it. It has some pretty passages, and some scenes that I enjoy, but no plot. I've been trying to figure out the plot and nothing has come to me.

I thought I could make it a history of the Nature Preserve we are driving through in the story. But, I'd really want to visit it and interview folks and there's too much interpersonal stuff in it for that. Then, after a couple of weird conversations with my sister about our mother's childhood, I thought it could be about the ways in which my grandmother was "difficult." I circled around this one a lot, because I think my grandmother and I are both difficult in many of the same ways, and this informs the relationship I have with my mother. But I am not ready (and don't feel driven) to write that essay.

So, in the shower, I thought of "asking" the essay what it wanted to be. Formally. Not because I was thinking of Elizabeth Gilbert consciously (I was not), but no doubt because I have internalized her ideas. I sat down at the computer and opened a new document and at the very top of the page, I typed:

Who cares about my grandmother and I riding around in the car?

I asked the universe at large. And then, without waiting, I followed it up with:

Getting along with a difficult relative
Learning to be a birder

As soon as I typed that last line, and looked at it, I knew that was it. It's not Anna Karenina or anything, but it's a plot--it starts out with me resistant, there is a break-through, and then I am one step closer to being the person I will become. From this idea can stem some research options: I can try to find out how some other people came to birding and compare my lot with theirs, perhaps. I can include some of the other things I got from my grandmother (her love of photography, her often frosty and intimidating disposition).

I think I had even maybe thought about this idea before, but hadn't committed enough to saying it out loud / typing it. So it had never stuck. The essay might still not work, I know this. But here it is: some direction. Now I have seen a shape in the stone: all I have to do is chip off all the pieces that aren't it.

Then, in a forum I frequent entirely too much for my own good, someone posted a link to a writing-related RadioLab episode. When I got home, I listened to it while waiting for some consoling Chinese delivery: "Imagine you're a writer, but the words won't come. Could you bargain with creativity to get past your writer's block?" There it was! Synchronicity.

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