One writer's attempt to live (and document) a creative life.
An exploration of the open-ended. A quest for authenticity. A spiritual memoir of sorts.
When was super depressed, I wasn’t working—I was always too depressed. Hemingway did his best work when he didn’t drink, then he drank himself to death and blew his head off with a shotgun. Someone asked John Cheever, “What’d you learn from Hemingway?” and he said “I learned not to blow my head off with a shotgun.” I remember going to the Michigan poetry festival, meeting Etheridge Knight there and Robert Creeley. Creeley was so drunk—he was reading and he only had one eye, of course, and had to hold his book like two inches from his face using his one good eye. But you look at somebody like George Saunders—I think he’s the best short story writer in English alive—that’s somebody who tries very hard to live a sane, alert life.
You’re present when you’re not drinking a fifth of Jack Daniel’s every day. It’s probably better for your writing career, you know? I think being tortured as a virtue is a kind of antiquated sense of what it is to be an artist.
Why did I write it down? In order to remember, of course, but exactly what was it I wanted to remember? How much of it actually happened? Did any of it? Why do I keep a notebook at all? It is easy to deceive oneself on all those scores.
I grew up in a house where I lived in the shadow of the things my mom wanted to do and never did. I don’t want to do that to my kids. Instead, I want them to see that dreams aren’t for putting on a shelf and glancing at sometimes when you think no one is watching. Dreams and passions are what make life worth living. My goal is to be a living example of that.
I’ve always been a pen-and-paper gal (I still begin my short stories that way), but recently, I’ve been starting to use the Notes app on my phone to collect thoughts, images, memories, lines, etc. that strike me throughout the day. Sometimes they are whole ideas for stories. Sometimes they are fully formed sentences. I’ve also saved bits of odd dialogue I’ve eavesdropped on, questions I have about random things, additions to stories I’m already working on, dreams—anything that pops into my head that might somehow be useful.
When I can’t seem to write anything or move ahead on a story, I use these as prompts to get the creative juices flowing.
Here are a few of the weirder ones:
-I’m not a horrible person, I’m not a horrible person, I’m not a horrible person.
-Your girlfriend is an emo tween.
-Florida is shaped like a gun.
-Inventions: Bandaid that preserves wound but doesn’t create an additional wound in removal process
-It is 1965. I am nothing.
So that’s just a smattering. I have only used one of these to begin a story/research, and I may scrap it. So writer friends, if you are struggling with prompts, feel free to steal one of these kernels of weird if it strikes your fancy. (You’re welcome).
I feel like the more I keep track of the weird things I think about or observe, the more weird things come. The Law of Attraction, maybe. But I’m finding it a great way to mine for story ideas, especially when they come in the middle of the night.
I’m not saying artists shouldn’t borrow from or quote or be influenced by other artists. On the contrary, this is often where great art begins. And I’m not even sure where I stand on the idea of originality. I’m speaking more of certain, often-changing trends in the arts: shortcuts and tired approaches that are overused, or not well-used, or not understood by the users, and yet somehow accepted, perhaps because of the comfort in their predictability. I feel like I keep running into that. But again, I’m just talking about formula. It’s where art dead-ends.
Susan Steinberg in The Sunday Rumpus Interview