A seat at the table for the weary (see: yet unformed)
When it comes to catching ideas, I cast a wide net. I write everything down.
I never know what might come of a seed I decide to follow down its own rabbit hole. I’m greedy for fish I will never have enough time in the world to eat. But nevertheless I’ll scoop them all up into the nylon grip of putting them to words, however brief.
I have pages upon pages of single lines of dialogue; clusters of efficient, to-the-point descriptions of images I saw in freeze-frame at the back of my mind and couldn’t stand to forget; full outlines for plots I dream up when I can take the time with them, replete with “???” and “[something something]” so I can have even the slightest chance of outrunning my muse, grabbing him by the hair to pin him down in the mud of sticky consciousness and finish a fucking thought.
(Clearly, the well has run at a bit more of a trickle these days—but understandably. My life has been turned on its head, in many good ways, although it’s the sort of good that begets endurance for the length at which it chooses to reach you.)
(I’ve been moving house.)
Sometimes though, an idea tries to come to the table before it’s ready to sit.
It knocks on my door. This is, perhaps, slightly embarrassing as I’ve already invited and filled my table with ideas. It would be rude to ask Idea A to make room between her and whatever strange, sideways flirtation she has going on with Idea C. That isn’t a thing to be taken lightly, ideas seizing their own fate in one alchemic hand to try and make something more of themselves with another. Like the single distilled drop from an alembic, you don’t disturb that shit.
This new idea standing out on the stoop, this stumbling foal of nothing-quite-yet, demands to be seated. It’s hungry. I tell it I’m sorry, I didn’t make enough to eat this time. And really, this is for fully-formed ideas only. It’s past your bedtime.
I’m hungry, it says again, and refuses to move.
Look, I tell it, I can bring you table scraps. Five minutes, a rough outline, nothing concrete, but would that hold you over? Would that be enough to get you to sleep without a growling belly?
The new idea looks over my shoulder and sees Idea B in all their serpentine, wandering litheness arcing across the table to reach the sweet rolls.
You said this was for fully-formed ideas only, the new idea spits. That one doesn’t even have legs.
That one, I say with a careful and measured patience, isn’t trying to walk on land.
So the new idea huffs away, unfed and unhappy. I shut the door and get back to being a good host.
(When I wash my dishes that night, I will stop and feel the slightest bit guilty for not asking the poor thing’s name before it slouched away into the dark.)
The next time I host a dinner, the new idea comes back. But this time, it brings a welcome gift; a tea candle, or an interesting four-set of table coasters. A very fine attempt at the beginning of something.
Well, I tell it, Idea C came down with something and couldn’t make it tonight. If you’re okay with sitting by the window with a bit of draft, we would love to have you.
All of that to say, perhaps the adage of “if you let it go and it doesn’t come back, it was never yours to begin with” is a bit one-sided. A touch cruel, really, if you think about it.
I don’t like putting stakes or ultimatums on my creative process. It feels unfair—after all, I do spend quite a lot of time yanking at my muse’s hair; his poor scalp. But more than that, it isn’t right to place the same expectations on nascence that I should save instead for something far more mature that needs and even craves the scrutiny.
Ideas are fledglings. They need patience and a lack of judgment and yes, sometimes a timely regurgitation to become anything worthy of peregrine awe.
We must be kind to them. After all, they come from our own selves.
Bodies deserve to be loved. What are ideas, if not organic?
~~~~~~ Book Updates ~~~~~~
SHOOT THE MOON, a midcentury story about wormholes and clinging to the time we have left with the people who love us, comes to Putnam Books in fall 2023 — stay tuned for more coming soon.
~~~~~~ Reading Recs ~~~~~~
LUSTER by Raven Leilani
This story is the equivalent of putting your hand in the garbage disposal and holding it there, daring the blade to spin. It has me by the teeth, I’m riveted by Edie’s internal monologue and the choices she makes. Put this one at the top of your list.
~~~~~~ Currently Listening ~~~~~~
The Lovers cycle from Barber: An American Romantic — Samuel Barber, Craig Hella Johnson, Conspirare
It aches! It yearns! It’s so very, very, American-queer!! One of Barber’s final works makes up a trope of the modern Mass that hits as hard as it weeps. Absolutely breathtaking music, one of my forever-favorites (it’s been raining quite often lately in San Antonio).
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