Sunday, August 25, 2013


Each time you sit somewhere to compose something, you are making choices.  These choices begin with the medium itself, whether the composition will get its start on the smaller, pocket-sized notebooks you carry about with you, the sometimes present lined eight-and-a-half by-eleven note pads, or somehow on toward the captured keystrokes that will make their way to the hard drive of a computer.

Often there is a driving force behind the setting forth of the composition, some buzzing insect of an idea that wants introduction to an enclosed environment where it will have enough flora and fauna to nourish it while it grows under your observation.

Many of the ideas or notions you trap within the confines of these blog parameters are equivalents of lab animals, waiting for opportunities to evolve into something more mature, something with the wisdom of experience.

What possible experience could these ideas have?  Why, they could be revised, cut, pasted, conflated, transported, expanded upon.  In such cases, words would be added, to them, deleted from them (you have any number of habit words that cause you to groan when their repetitions begin to call themselves to your attention), their orders or verb tenses modified or removed altogether.

These ideas could have similar experiences to many incidents and events in your non-composition life, your standing in a grocery check-out line or your reading a book in a coffee shop life, where, only a week ago, you were approached by a man who introduced himself to you by telling you a book of yours had changed his life, then went on to talk about the book in a way that let you know he had mistaken you for another writer.  These ideas, and others like them, have met with obstacles, frustrations, misdirection.  Some of them have fizzled out, become lost, or were scooped up to be used as ingredients in another idea. 

Over a lifetime of learning to recognize ideas, how to cope with them, and in some grand sense, how to care for them, you are no longer surprised by them.  You are perhaps distracted by them, warmed by their ability to keep you away from the more mundane activities, and thus sometimes likely to take them for granted.

Ideas have been close friends at times, leading you away from self-centeredness and toward a greater sense of looking for places where there is a tangible connection between you and more things than you might have guessed.  Thus, ideas keep you guessing and connected in ways it is good to appreciate.  Ideas keep you investigating the scale of your experiences, your wish list for understanding, and your vision of the way ideas work.

In some ways, knowing the little you do about ideas allows you to see how they behave for you the way notes do for a musician.  Players know the ranges of their instruments, which notes they can produce, which are beyond their ability to achieve unless they move to another instrument with a different range.  Fond of short stories as you are, there are ranges of ideas that will not fit in them and require the broader scale of the novel.

Musicians know through muscle memory the sound of each note in the instrument they play.  This allows them to improvise or reproduce, just as you improvise here and rearrange, edit, revise, and remove words, ideas, phrases.

Thinking these things, you are sometimes horrified at the way you took ideas for granted to the point where you were at no pains to care for them.  You in a sense treated them the way John James Audubon treated the scores and hundreds of birds he sacrificed to gain the muscle memory he was able to use in his portraits.  

You have to treat ideas with respect, thankful they began coming to you in the first place, but now to keep them coming.

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