Mining for Precious Mettle

Sometimes my fingers fly over my keyboard. Or my pen seems animated; it’s almost impossible to stop the steady scrawl creeping across the page. There’s so much to say! Thoughts and images and ideas burst out, and I run after them, typing as fast as I can to catch up.

But some days I show up at the page with nothing much to say. I know there’s stuff–GOOD stuff–buried deep beneath, waiting to be mined.  But I don’t seem, in the moment, to have the tools to do that digging.

That’s the time, Australian  author Stephanie Dowrick reminds me, that free association can jump-start my inspiration. I found Dowrick’s book, Creative Journal Writing, on the new shelf at my local library last week.

It’s this simple, Dowrick advises: let my eye fall on some external object. Don’t be picky; the first thing I notice is fine. So I spy the salt shaker sitting near where I’m typing at the dining room table. Salt it is, then.

I have to commit, says Dowrick, to writing for at least ten minutes. Salt, I think. I flex my fingers over the keyboard, and I decide to make a list.

Salt, I write.

Then I write: we need salt in the employee lounge. (I think of Lauren, who always gets stuck with all the kitchen labor in our kitchen area, She is the last one who brought in salt. She also is the one who runs the dishwasher, takes the towels home to clean, and organizes everyone into purging their old, stale leftovers from the refrigerator. Why does one person always get silently nominated to be the work ‘mom’?  That might be something to write about.)

I write ‘salt of the earth,’ and I think about that expression. It means essential, doesn’t it? Salt is the thing that both spices and preserves our food; life without it would be bland and spoiled. And I think of my friend Kim, who is entering her last days, cancer pumping poisons, kidneys shutting down. Kim is salt of the earth. What will we do without Kim?

That, too, may be something I need to explore in writing.

I veer away from sadness, and I think of the salt and peppers shakers we saw at the antique emporium downtown last weekend; we were on a fruitless quest for an old-fashioned lap desk for my mother-in-law. We DID find lots of curiosities to pick up and wonder at. Among there were a set of ceramic hot dogs in buns–salt and pepper shakers: brassy gold mustard on the salt shaker, scarlet catsup on the pepper. They were so ugly, they were wonderful. I seriously debated bringing them home.

Hmm. Maybe I could write about the impulses that bid us buy things, or reject them.

When I think of salt and pepper shakers, I think of my friend Sharon, who once had a vast collection–hundreds of sets, no doubt,–all around a bovine theme. How she got hooked on a cow tangent, I don’t know. When she moved to start a new adventure, all the shakers went to Goodwill. She’s not so fond of a cow theme anymore.

Hmmm. Letting go to make way for a new path.

Hmmm. How interests change.

I look at my phone; I’ve been writing, effortlessly for twenty minutes.

That’s a way that works to loosen up the hidden ore: free association listing.

Or—I could use free association to open the door and just follow the path.

So, for instance, my eye lights on my calendar. THAT makes me think of the unexpected meeting I had yesterday with a person I call, very uncharitably, the Bow-Tied Bonehead.

That bow-tie makes me think of the former president of the nearby big university, which has a famous football team. And the team’s nickname–the Buckeyes– makes me think of the chestnuts that fall from trees and threaten to surprise me on my walks–twisted ankles, here we come!

The tree in the front yard is STILL loaded with leaves; those will be falling soon, too. Soon we will have snow.

That means Christmas is coming; I have shopping to do.

Before I shop for Christmas, there are three December birthdays I need to remember. These are three people, three connections, from very different origins. Family; marriage connection; work friendship. Isn’t it interesting the binds we make?  Every step on the path brings me into connection with new people. Sometimes, that moment over, we wave goodbye and go on. Sometimes, those chance meetings bloom into lifelong friendships–truly companions for the journey.

Ahhh–that makes me think of hymns, and committing to a church, and what I want in a church, and how hard that is to find.

Suddenly, sprung by the concept of calendar, I have wandered into a whole slew of writing topics.

Disciplining myself to daily arrival on the page is easy when the words flow. When they don’t–when I am tempted to quit, to check email or Facebook, to avoid the task entirely–it’s nice to have an arsenal of tools and tricks to get me started.

I’m glad Stephanie Dowrick reminded me, this week, how effective free association can be.

Happy blogging, my friends!

#creative writing