(NOTE: Here we all are/Sittin’ in a rainbow/Hello Mrs.
Jones/How’s your Bert’s lumbago?/I’ll sing you a song,/With no words and no
tune/To sing at your party/While you suss out the moon/Lazy Sunday afternoon/I
got no mind to worry/I close my eyes and drift away)
Mr. Detroit is back in town after recovering from Rio de
Janeiro’s Carnevale last February, when he sustained several samba-related
bruises and contusions. Nurses from among the city’s bathing suit models cared
for the less-than-limber limbo dancer until he healed enough to travel. He read
too much while in bed and not very happily.
“Some clown sent me a stack of new novels and short story
collections. Most of them were like going through MFA class assignments, or
failed movie scripts with a little description to break the dialogue. I mean,
hey, no one with an operating brain can read this junk. Only backrubs from the
nurses and the collection of novellas from Jim Harrison, Brown Dog
(Grove Atlantic, $27.00), kept me from going nuts. Tell
me, hot shot, where does good writing come from?”
Harrison is a master observer, either by birth or
application, and his stories, novels, and poetry are born of his unique one-eyed
taking in of the world. Writing, like the sciences, comes from observation.
Want to learn the phases of the moon? Watch the moon. How about fruit fly
reproduction, sound waves, an orchid’s life cycle, turtle migration, or
thermodynamics? Watch, read, and take notes. Most phenomena will show its true
nature when observed without judgment or bias.
For the writer, the subject is people in all their strange
and pleasant forms. James Thurber (1894–1961) preferred staying at home for his
material, while his wife, Helen, liked being sociable. One evening she
convinced him to go to a party. They greeted their host and went off in
different directions to talk to friends. Helen found Thurber an hour or so
later by himself in a corner. He watched people talk, eat canapés, drink
mid-priced cocktails, and dance when the band played. Helen stalked over to his
hiding place and demanded, “When will you stop working?” (In Thurber’s defense,
he worked at the New Yorker
deadline pressure to pay for his house in Connecticut.)
Imagination comes from inspiration and information. Anything
can happen when you take out the ear buds and stop jabbering. Look at people
and watch how they interact with the buildings, roadways, cafes, trees, bodies
of water, and each other. Be caught up in social movements; take a stand no
matter how odd. Humanity is your subject, otherwise writing becomes just a
gathering of sentences to break up a white page.
An auburn haired woman walks down the street wearing a blue
jean jacket and red skirt propelled by long, pale legs leads to thoughts of a
disorganized French tricolor flag and Eugène Delacroix’s “Liberty
Leading the People.” Imagination asks: Where is she going? Who will she
meet? What will she do? What will be the outcome? Is she humming “La
Marseillaise” while she waits for the light at the intersection? The elements
can merge in a short story so compelling it would make Anton Chekov envious if
he still lived.
At least recycle the ugly, self-involved, cellular brutes.
STATUS FOR THE STATUS-SEEKERS
Everyone wants to be well-loved and well known, and the best
book to help you attain both is The Dog
Walked Down the Street: An Outspoken Guide for Writers Who Want to Publish
House, $13.95). In finer restaurants, waving a copy at the maître
guarantees preferred seating. Dentists offer free floss for readers
of The Dog,
and car mechanics are so
fond of the book’s classy cover, inspiring pages, and squared corners they will
rotate your tires. To enjoy a fuller, happier life, and learn a bunch about
writing and publishing, log on to www.indiebound.com for the nearest absolutely
cool independent bookstore near you.