Checking the Intake Valve

I’ve been writing; my words have been pouring out, flowing from fingers to keyboard, from pen into journal.  Suddenly, I have so much to say, stories to tell, scenes to illuminate.  I go, as they say, with the flow, and the writing life seems obvious and easy; and then one morning I wake up and I find the well’s dry. I’m down, so to speak, way more than a quart.  My metaphors are all empty ones.

There seem to be no words left, and I can’t imagine what I might have to say that’s worth the writing.

I have been so concerned with output I have forgotten to worry about intake, and it’s a symbiotic relationship, this writing life of ours.  We have to take in a store of sounds and sights and experiences to be able to sort them out and share them in the printed word. I’ve been neglecting the taking in part.

What do I do?

I begin, mindfully, to listen.  I listen to the voices in the waiting room–“We was halfway to school,” a mother confides to the person next to her, “when the little brat pukes all over the car.”  The seat-mate murmurs consolingly and assures the mom that it’s going around, and everyone has been contending with the sad and smelly effects of a bad tummy flu.

The mama shakes her head ruefully; beside her a wan and whey-faced little tow-head, lavender circles slashed beneath sleepy eyes, slumps against her, huddled in a puffy winter coat. Underneath the mama’s rough bravado, I can read real worry, tender concern.

I store that; there are memories evoked of being sick and feeling guilty about the disruption that illness causes; there are questions about the everyday plague that seems to be spreading among school-aged children–a plague of nausea and other, even ickier symptoms.  How do we avoid THAT particular virus?

At lunch, Jim pauses in his typing and begins to tell me the backstory of the making of a recent superhero movie; he has researched this, and he has insider details about the whole journey from conception to screen.  Stirring my soup, I stop and really listen, switching off that surface ‘uh huh’ mom-mode.  I marvel at how easily the boy assimilates complex data, sorting and remembering. I think about the superhero theme.  We were at a gathering recently that included five autistic young adults between the ages of 18 and 30, and the unifying topic, the thing that brought them all into deep discussion, was superhero media. It’s fascinating, and so is Jim’s story about the director’s fight with the studio.

I spoon my soup; I nod my head.  I ask a question here and there, because, now, I really want to know more.

I comp an hour of work time and take a quick spin to our little art museum.  I start with the standing exhibits, and I stop before my favorite landscape, admiring the bold brush strokes, the more-than-suggestion of melting snow and muddy road.  I travel into that world a ways, and I store up the visit.

Then I go to see the new exhibit, a raucous collection of work made from recycled artifacts.  There are weavings made with bright slashes of oddly matched fabric; there is a menagerie of rusty critters welded from discarded garden tools.  There is a fish, three feet long, built entirely from smashed beer bottle caps.  Something about this exhibit makes my heart leap; it is fun, it is quirky.  It invites another way of seeing what I dismiss as everyday.

And then, of course, the day’s duties done, I take that quiet hour at the very end of day, and I read.  I start with my non-fiction book, a new book about the autistic mind, and I plunge into the stories the author shares about talented people in the field of science long ago who were also, clearly, autists.  It’s fascinating, and I realize that it’s  written in a casual, friendly, conversational style.  Even the scientific explanations are accessible and matter of fact, and I get (sort of) how that genius went about trying to weigh the earth.

As I set that book aside, I think about the writing style.  How did he achieve that graceful, friendly tone? I accept completely his authority, but he also draws me in, as a person is drawn into conversation. I ponder that, and I pick up my novel and start to read about a lonely woman in a plush world, in another time entirely, who turns to gardening to slake her thirst to nurture.  I see the tangled mess of gardens she decides to tackle on the estate, feel the trepidation of the gardener who is pressed, unwillingly, to help her.

How does THAT author create a world, pretty foreign to my experience, and make it seem so familiar? I think about that as I drift off to sleep.

And then I get up and the night mind has performed its alchemy, and, freshened, presentable, armed to start the day, I pull three sheets of blank loose leaf paper toward me. I find my new favorite pen.  I begin to write, and all the experiences of the last twenty four sort themselves, and the important ones, the ones that seem to have a special significance, float to the top.  I write them down, randomly, without trying to inspire or amaze with my wording or vocabulary. No, this is just a race to capture impressions, to pin down reactions, to acknowledge a conversation, a viewing, an event, that struck me–and to give myself an opportunity, later, to figure out why.

And so my writer’s pump is primed.  I have soaked in what’s going on around me, letting it sift through my own peculiar filters, and I see there may be a nugget or two of gold left on the screen.  I have basked in the beautiful writing of others, and I have learned there’s a cadence and a style that calls to me, that is congruent to my own. And I have listened to the humming in my own head, the busy bustle of words and thoughts that come jumbling, rambling out after a day of taking in.

I’m ready to write now.  I am going to write about gardening; I am going to ponder, in essay form, the fine (and maybe, lost) art of listening. Next week, I might explore sick days from childhood, and, too, I might ponder a bit about why superheroes and the autistic mind click so smoothly. Having absorbed and taken the time to let the alchemy work, I realize I do, indeed, have some things–MANY things–I want to say.

But then, when I’ve said them, when I’ve poured those fluid thoughts out into print, I need to remember to go back to the well.

What conversation busted in on your awareness this week?  What words did you read that moved you? What flowed from mind to pen and into your journal? (I KNOW you’re keeping a journal…right???)

I can’t wait to read your next writing.  Happy blogging, my friends.