Archive for the ‘Fiction’ Category

The Ovation (and how to not be a writer)

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

First, watch this (with the sound up):


Then, read this:

The idea for this story came to me while I was making a sandwich. I’m a methodical sandwich maker, creating the same damned sandwich every work morning (sprouted bread, hummus, two cheeses, shredded carrots, spinach). A reliable sandwich is the cornerstone of a productive day. This was in the evening, though. I was attempting to get a leg up on things and streamline my morning ablutions. Methodical procedures, those moments of daily autopilot, are great times for reflection and the general percolation of ideas. That’s a glorious aspect of our brains that we all share. The creative act, though, requires additional commitment. It requires the pinch-grasping of one of those fleeting ideas, holding it by the tail, refusing to let it fly off into the ether. It requires feeding the idea, percolating it, facilitating its journey. There are two huge stumbling blocks, though. First, sometimes the ideas just don’t really present themselves. Sometimes you’re dry, or just don’t notice as they escape out your ears and off into the void. Other times, the ideas are there, but that doesn’t mean that each one merits a significant focus. For example, I was walking home from work the other night and I passed a MacDonald’s sign that announced something about an Angus Beef burger. I don’t know about you, but when I hear “Angus” I think of clean, pure, unfettered Rock and Roll. So now I’m heading down into the subway, imagining Angus Young, sweaty head nodding, a Big Mac shoved in his mouth as he crunches through a stellar rock solo. How did Angus end up pimping Big Macs? Is he the right role model for hamburger-woofing children? On what dark path shall he lead the waning fast food empire? Is this the payment for his well-known Deal With The Devil?

And that’s one of the ideas that you just leave back up there at street level.

So I’m half-way through this sandwich and I imagine this absurd image of an audience that takes the standing ovation to the bitter extreme. I continued the logic, imagining people working shifts of applause, and how long that could be sustained. Fun stuff. Normally I will jot down a few notes, then file it away for some time when I can properly sequester myself from my own life. My general approach to writing is to brew up the idea, keep it turning on some sort of pig-roast spit until it seems reasonably ready, and then, finally, start writing. This has worked for a few stories, but, with many others, I have essentially killed it off before it even hits the paper. Very similar to seeing a movie trailer for a super-cool, amazing flick that’s coming out next summer, then seeing a few more trailers later in the spring, getting all excited, actually marking the release day on some sort of calendar, and then being barraged with a two-week wave of previews and press right before the big moment, so that when it finally opens you just don’t have the energy to get out and see it, feel like it really isn’t that special anymore, and decide to hold off, eventually waiting for the DVD, then throwing it into the middle of the Netflix queue and, well, forgetting about it. So when I finally sit down to write a story, I’m already sick of it. This is a distinguishing characteristic between those who “imagine” and those who actually “write”.

Anyway, I went into my office to jot down the notes, the same old procedure, but then I just sat down and wrote the whole thing. It’s a short one, more of a punchline than a real story with any nuance of character. I ended up with about 2.5 pages, and, while the joke was effective, I wasn’t sure what else to do with it. I wanted to put it up online, but still “publish” it in some way. And I wanted to retain some rights, to prevent anyone from just cutting/pasting it into a blog or something (assuming anyone would be so inclined). I decided that I could read it out loud and stick it up on YouTube. Then I thought of some fun soundtrack enhancements. Then I thought it would be nice to have something for people to look at. Then I spent the rest of the summer photographing people’s hands. The Neil Gaiman shot was the coup, of course, and a moment of generosity during one of his multi-hour signings. Unfortunately, I was buying a house and preparing for a baby (due to arrive in two days, which is, um, any time now in baby-land . . . perhaps I should be blogging about that, eh?), so I wasn’t on the ball as much as I hoped. That happens when something turns into a “project”. I think that a lot of the people, my friends, coworkers, intermittent folks, forgot about the hand photographs. Now that it’s resurfaced, I’ve found that the project tends to work against itself. The people who have a real investment in this, those who’s hands are in it, concentrate on identifying their hands or other friends’ hands, missing key parts of the narration. It’s a bit of a multimedia overload. This reminds me of a project a friend did many years ago, when we were both at Illinois State University. He read an HP Lovecraft story while playing “Bella Lugosi’s Dead” on a CD player while projecting scenes from “Evil Dead 2″ on a screen. This was for some sort of grad class down there at ISU. Most folks were drawn to the video, making it very difficult to actually follow the progression of the story. Cool idea, but ultimately a confusing mash.

So that’s the type of hole I have dug. I must say, though, that it was a lot fun in the digging. I hope you enjoyed it!