I grew up on old spaghetti westerns, and black and white series such as The Lone Ranger. Every week, on his stallion, Silver, The Lone Ranger would cry out, “Hi-Yo, Silver!” and off they’d go on a new adventure, the ever faithful Tonto following close at their heels.
The only girl in a household of boys, I greatly admired The Lone Ranger’s courage and his untouchable aloofness. My brothers were rambunctious, rowdy and funny. Most days I gladly followed them around trying to join in their hi-jinks, such as jumping from the top bunk, or catching Black Widow spiders in canning jars. But sometimes I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts. Sometimes I needed to step back from the hilarity and bravado, and just think.
I came to appreciate this same quality in The Lone Ranger. I knew in my heart he wore a mask not only so he wouldn’t be identified and lauded for his good deeds. I suspected he also wore it because he liked having that bit of privacy that kept him a little hidden from everyone else. He was a deep thinker, too, I was sure of it.
I still need lots of time alone, which is pretty typical for a writer. But I’ve come to suspect I rely too much on my own thoughts and perceptions when I could be relying–a little at least–on the wisdom and collective writing experience of others.
I’ve never been the type to join clubs, but I see I’ve allowed my natural tendency to enjoy my own company to rob me of the natural camaraderie that often exists between writers. I didn’t realize my hunger to talk shop until I began beta reading five years ago. Since then I’ve met so many talented and wonderful writers and, as a bonus, some of them have become good friends.
I‘ll probably never lose my admiration for The Lone Ranger’s bravery, mask and all. Though it does occur to me all these decades later that courage doesn’t require a mask. All it needs is a strong enough reason to be pushed out of one’s comfort zone, not unlike the bravery it took to jump off that top bunk.
“If we had a keen vision of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow or the squirrel’s heartbeat, and we should die of the roar which lies on the other side of silence. As it is, the quickest of us walk about well-wadded with stupidity.” George Eliot
I’ve read this George Eliot quote often through the years, and every time I do it hits me how blind I am to the wonders of ordinary life. I would like to think I’m not quite as far gone as to walk about “well-wadded with stupidity” which is another way of describing someone who is on automatic pilot, a sleepwalker blinded to the beauty of the commonplace.
But don’t we all at times find ourselves blind to (or bored with) the familiarity of our everyday lives? This may be one reason writers write. We long to experience adventures far beyond the scope of mundane reality, adventures created and choreographed by our own imaginations.
Hearing the Grass Grow
I was blessed to discover my writing self early in life. Doubly blessed to have spent many summers isolated in the haven of my backyard fort, scribbling my heart out on lined pencil tablets. And while I may not have exactly heard the grass grow, I did experience delicious wafts from the cucumbers in my neighbor’s garden, vying with the scent of my suntan lotion and the pleasant voice of Roger Miller singing King of the Road on someone’s transistor radio.
Sometimes a lady bug landed on my arm and I dropped my tablet like a hot potato so that I could take in the wonder of the tiny bug tickling my bare flesh. Or it might be a knee scab that suddenly snagged my attention, and again the writing was temporarily forgotten while I picked at it, anxious to get a peek at the puckery skin beneath. (I was always, it seemed, wanting to get to the inside of things.)
As a child, I didn’t consider such distractions to be interruptions. Maybe my inner critic hadn’t yet set up shop. Writing my heart out and stopping to lollygag and absorb the life around me, in the form of a lady bug or the fresh scent of cucumber, contributed to my unique writer’s perception. I was unaware then how generously I allowed myself to see and appreciate the ordinary all about me. Instinctively, I knew to not hold my writing talent too tightly. I knew to take it seriously but at the same time to hold it loosely–loosely enough to set it aside for the sake of admiring the beautifully ordinary world unfolding all about me.
I wish I could remember that writing exercises are a good thing, and not meant as some kind of punishment. Maybe then I’d do them on a regular basis, even if I dragged my feet every step of the way.
My muse doesn’t care for such preambles; she finds writing exercises a bore, and a waste of time. But I’m beginning to suspect that her impulsive nature is exactly why my creativity is in need of a warm up. I love spontaneity in writing, it’s what makes the act of creative writing so satisfying and fun. But if I haven’t first warmed up my writing muscles, I’m left with writing with no depth because I followed with glee the sparkle and glimmer of my muse’s colorful meanderings, only to discover she’d left me right smack in the middle of a troublesome description, or a clever bit of dialogue.
My last blog post included an objective correlative writing exercise. Today’s exercise is a bit simpler: look around you at your surroundings, and pick one thing to write about in three sentences. It might be a framed painting hanging on your wall, a pile of dirty clothes on the floor or your fat cat snoozing at the foot of your bed, or the arm of your couch. Say what comes to mind first about your subject, in three sentences. That’s it. You’re not going for spectacular writing here, all you’re doing is warming up your creativity. Here’s a few of my own little word doodles as a sample. As you can see, these are plain little word pictures, nothing more:
Curl up like a fur ball,
your boneless fluff
a rug for my feet.
Who needs this reminder
of school assemblies:
cold metal on tender bottoms?
When I was little,
joy was digging through a grownup’s purse,
sifting its contents for clues to my own femaleness.
How can I take you seriously
when one of you
is forever losing its mate?
You get the idea. There is nothing daunting here, you can even do these while drinking your first cup of coffee of the day. In fact, I find I do much better when my conscious mind isn’t fully awake, for that means my muse is off somewhere (probably admiring her face in a mirror), not even paying me the least bit of attention.