22 September 2011

Free the Flood

There is a moment of silence before my fingers begin their slow crawl across the keyboard, like that frozen moment of silence as you look in the rearview mirror and see the grille of a car barreling towards you, that fear-fraught tableau when you realize you cannot avoid what is about to happen. It's just a few letters at first, the hesitant tap-tap-tap of exploratory thoughts beaming down from the unexplored depths of my mind's lyric/prose ocean, the intermittent, percussive tick-tick-tick-tick of the backspace key as the word-stream starts, stutters, stops, gutters, and gushes forth once more. I have delved down without the re-breathing apparatus of a defined plan; rather, I have simply plunged in, head-first, chasing after the hazy, wavering image of an idea as seen through the diamond scintillation of unformed, fragmentary thoughts tossing in the deeps of my soul.

Like most ideas, it begins with two simple catalytic words: what if. Those two words hold the power of genesis, from them have sprung mighty theses, entire civilizations writhing with life, bright and vivid characters.

What if...?

Like those two words, a blank page holds a world, a universe of potential, and that is the jumping-off point, for me, in this moment. The blank page itself is the force that sets my fingers to flying; like a flash flood, it starts with a trickle, gradually increasing to a stream, then a river, then a roaring rampage that cannot be stopped until it is spent.

When I write, I set my mind to...what do I call it?...tabula rasa, Locke's blank slate; put another way, I write in a frame of “no mind,” the Buddhist intentional emptiness in search of ultimate nirvana. The words flow out of their own accord, with little to no prompting from my consciousness. I am not empty, when writing, however. It is not a brainless, zombie-like apathy, it is an emotional process, a sensory process: I hear the words tolling in my skull and rolling in my ear canals, tingling on my tongue and dancing on my tastebuds, I can see them floating and lilting in my vision, buzzing along my skin and tickling the fine hairs on my forearms like a caterpillar crawling up my arm; if I use the wrong word it jars and jangles my nerves, pounds on my taut sensibilities, I cannot rest until I find the right word, I pounce on the syntactical error like a puma pouncing on a mountain goat.

There is no “zone.” The backlit, glowing screen of my cheap laptop is the zone, the blue lines racing across the notebook page is the zone, the pen gripped in fingers ready to spill ink in delicate floral arrangements, words resting each upon the other in intricate cochleate patterns. But do not mistake this for ease. It is far from easy. It is a kind of magical summoning, it sometimes seems, and all magic comes with a price. One must practice, and fail, and practice again, devote hours to finding the perfect balance, the correct alignment of idea, style and purpose. I cannot just sit down and conjure prose for free; there is a cost, as with all things. The outside world must be tuned out, faded into grainy haze at the edges of consciousness; homework, housework, fussing babies, arguing children, these must be quieted and set aside; worries and stress, love and dislike, these too must be relinquished, so that the words might be brought forth to do my bidding.

Now, in this moment of composition, the outside world is pressing in upon my bubble, and the crashing gallop of words is tripped and halted. I shake my head and glance around, the clack-click-click is slowed, my breathing deepens from the unconscious quick shallow panting of the mid-flow rush. Now I must rest a moment in between clauses, blink and meander mentally between sentences. The end is coming...I can feel it approaching, looming, beckoning. I welcome it, as much as I regret it. The end of a piece is always bittersweet, all the more so when the writing has burst forth with such possessive potency, gripping me as in the crushing coils of a python.

And to think, all this emerged from the seed of a single notion, germinated during the walk from classroom to classroom.

Is there a message? Is there a moral meant to be imbued, here? Not in the Mother Goose, Aesop kind of way. If there is, it simply to cherish words, to embrace the moments when it all happens perfectly, when the planets align and douse you with the sentences phrased just so to please the ear and the mind most fully. It won't always happen, though, and that's okay. Sometimes, the well of creativity is dry, and in those times you must pull deeply on the reserves within, like pursing lips to produce spit when your mouth is dry.
And now, the end has arrived. The flow has returned to a trickle and soon must cease completely. I take a deep breath, and let it be.


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