Saturday, May 21, 2011

Waste Not, Want Not

What do you do when a purple cow wanders into your dream?  If he tramples a line of people waiting to use an ATM you turn him into a metaphor for consumerism.  If he knocks over the display of Waterford crystal on the second floor of Macy’s, he’s a parenting lesson.

When your mother calls you at ten pm to discuss the details of her best friend’s nephew’s third divorce you could fake a fire in your kitchen and hang up or you could get out your pencil and notepad to exploit his suffering for your secondary character development.

Inspiration comes from three places, each having its own benefit and its own danger: dreams, life experiences, and scripture.

Dreams tap into fantasy, the unbridled, untamed explosion of action and color that break the rules of social behavior.  These ideas take your story to unexpected places, but our memories don’t hold the details.  Writing from a dream can feel like trying to grab a cloud; you know you are catching some of the substance, but you can’t retain the whole.

Life experiences are an unavoidable source of inspiration.  Our human successes and failures are the shared, universal experience and connect our writing to other people, making it relatable.  The danger of this muse is that our experiences are knitted together with our emotions.  Writing from experience requires a determined effort to exploit our own sorrow and joy.

Finally, it is scripture that inspires the spiritual elements of our writing.  Scripture gives us truth and bridges the great distance between our temporal world and the immaterial realm.  Art and literature can never be complete without tapping into our spiritual nature.  The danger of scripture based inspiration is that we risk alienating a portion of our audience.

My favorite writers fearlessly incorporate various sources of inspiration into their work.  So, the next time your three-year-old flushes three rolls of toilet paper down the upstairs toilet creating a Noah-level flood and collapsing the kitchen ceiling don’t surrender to temptation, weeping and rending your clothes.  Channel the tidal wave of emotion into a compelling chapter where your protagonist is washed over the stern of a Victorian Era steam liner.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

In Front of a Church

In front of a church.  That’s where a man raped me.  I didn’t know him.  He didn’t know me.  I was wearing black track pants and a pick sleeveless shirt.  He was drunk and sitting on the sidewalk.  I jogged past almost tripping on his foot and thought how fortunate for him I sidestepped his leg.  I could have hurt him.  He thought I looked like a victim.

In front of a church.  That’s where I almost died.  My torn clothes fell off my body and my blood mixed with the dirt on the sidewalk.  But, even though I felt entirely alone, someone was watching me.  He had been working late in the office of the church, writing a sermon on the Good Samaritan and had gotten thirsty.  At the kitchen sink, leaning over to fill his glass, he looked out and saw me, barely visible under the streetlight.

In front of a church.  That’s where a man saved me.  He rushed through the doors yelling into his cell phone.  He said the paramedics told him not to move me, and he wouldn’t leave until they came.  Then he prayed for me, words so sad I stopped crying for myself and cried for him.  He begged God to let me live.

In front of a church.  That’s where I began to live.  My mother pushed my wheelchair and knocked on the door.  Neither of us knew if it was okay just to go in.  We waited for two minutes and almost gave up.  Then he opened the door, caught his breath, and hugged me.  He taught me to pray.

In front of a church.  That’s where a man kissed me.  I had prayed for the first time.  He had promised to help me.  Then he looked up through teary eyes and kissed my cheek.  I said good bye but didn’t mean it.  I knew I’d be back.

In front of a church.  That’s where I fell in love.  Day after day my mother wheeled me down the sidewalk that connected my house to the church on the corner.  He would open the door with a smile and we would talk for hours.  With each trip I fell more and more in love with the man who had save my life and prayed with me.

In front of a church.  That’s where a man married me.  I promised to love him and help him serve God.  He promised to love me and protect me.  We kissed in front of the door as our friends and families cheered.  Then he pushed my chair to the sidewalk into a new life.