Losing the idea

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 18, 2014 12:17 AM

It occurs to me that I haven’t had a good idea in a long time. This is quite disturbing to me. I used to have ideas all the time and while not all of them were good, many of them had potential to develop into something decent. They would simply appear to me, these ideas. I would be sitting on the back of the motorcycle as we zoomed through the back canyons in the sunshine and I would have an idea for a short story. Another time, I had an idea for a novel. I’ve written neither but the ideas are good, they’re sound, and I have extensive notes.

I would wake up sometimes and have to reach for a pen and paper because I had an idea. Sometimes before I went to bed I would do the same, have an idea and scribble it down before sleep. Lately it seems that I lie in bed and do things like stare at the ceiling fan as it spins lazily. No ideas are presenting themselves and if I try too hard to have an idea, I feel as if I might rupture something. Maybe the fan is taking my ideas and lazily spinning them out into the ether where someone else will have them.

It scares me, this lack of good ideas. Not scares me in an I-better-get-a-gun-in-order-to-protect-myself kind of way; more in the holy-crap-what-happens-if-I-never-get-another-idea-then-what kind of way.

I voiced this concern to Bobbi today. I felt stupid as I typed the words. I feel stupid now. I’m in an idea rut, I’ve lost the idea, I said. What do I do? Naturally, she didn’t have an answer, nor did I expect her to. I think I just needed to vocalize my idea deficit in order to make it real because if it’s real then maybe I have a chance of turning the deficit into a surplus.

Years ago when I watched The West Wing, Sam Seaborn and Toby Ziegler, played by Rob Lowe and Richard Schiff respectively and scripted by Aaron Sorkin, discussed how they felt they had lost their talent. It was during the first season of the show, in an episode entitled Enemies. In it, Leo gives his daughter Mallory tickets to the Chinese opera and Mallory promptly asks Sam to accompany her which leads Leo to give Sam the assignment of writing a birthday message for someone. There is this exchange between Toby and Sam:

Toby: All right… It couldn’t have gone far, right?
Sam: No.Toby: Somewhere in this building… is our talent.
Sam: Yes. 

They’re obsessed with writing this message and it’s not coming out as lyrically as they’d like. I get it. There are many times when I write something and I know it’s fine. It’s just not great; it doesn’t sing. I think what Sam and Toby had really lost was the idea. The talent was there. If you have it, it’s always there. But without a means to express it, without the idea, it too seems lost.

My stream of ideas has become more of a trickle. Maybe it’s because we’re experiencing such a horrendous drought out here in the west. Maybe if we get some more rain my ideas will begin to bloom again.

I know this is all just temporary and that it happens to all writers, artists, musicians. A dry spell; that’s all it is. Bobbi thought maybe it was because I saw Alice Hoffman this weekend. Maybe. It makes sense when you see someone you so admire, someone who does what you do and so much better, that you suddenly feel inadequate. The problem is that I started feeling this way long before this past weekend.  

How is this good? Why am I writing about it on a blog that shouts “celebrate something?” I suppose it’s because it gives me an opportunity to think differently, to try harder, to strive for better. And that’s always something to celebrate because all three – thinking differently, trying harder, striving to be better – have to lead to something new, toward somewhere I haven’t been before, preferably to the ideas I have somehow lost in the last few months. We’ll see, but I’m open to having those ideas back, if the ideas are open to coming back. If they are, I’ll be living it out loud again soon. 

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live out loud

Viva la written word and the festivals that promote it

by Lorin Michel Monday, March 17, 2014 12:40 AM

I went to the Tucson Festival of Books yesterday. I always wanted to go to the one in LA at UCLA and sponsored by the Los Angeles Times. I never did because it was such a hassle to get there from the OP. Fighting the traffic to the West Side and looking for a place to park, paying to get in, mingling amongst stifling crowds just didn’t appeal to me. One year I was an invited guest of the Times because I had been one of the writers whose “chapter” was chosen in a serialized novel contest the newspaper ran in 2008 called Birds of Paradise: A novel collaboration. Unfortunately, I was back east that weekend. Justin and Kevin went in my place so that Justin could get extra credit in one of his classes. Kevin said it was a zoo. But Kevin is not a writer or a reader, though he has great appreciation for both.

This year, I had read about the Tucson Festival of Books at the University of Arizona. I had thought about going, since it’s so close and the hassle factor wouldn’t really exist other than the crowds and I can take crowds for an afternoon. I actually think the fact that these festivals attract so many people is incredible. Everyday I see someone online writing about the written word being dead. The irony of that statement gets me every time. I also have refused to believe it. Maybe because that kind of ignorance essentially negates my entire profession; maybe because I am such a huge fan of the written word I can’t imagine others not sharing my love. I know that many don’t (see above note about the husband-unit). It’s just one of those things that I find baffling, like how anyone can dislike Red Vines.

I’ve had an extremely busy couple of weeks. I’m not complaining because busy means money and money keeps a roof over our heads. Also, I like busy. I tend to function better when I’m mach II with my hair on fire. I think I’ve mentioned that before. That line by the way, is borrowed from the film Top Gun, which is the only thing I would even consider borrowing from Top Gun. The point is, I hadn’t given the Festival much thought of late. I’m not sure I even remembered it was this weekend. We are much more out of touch with the local news here than we ever were in LA. We don’t get the paper and we refuse to watch the local news because it’s worse here than in Los Angeles.

In addition to the animal rescue sites, wineries and political things I follow on Facebook, I also follow several writers, one of whom is my favorite, Alice Hoffman. I’ve been reading her work for years. I started with a book called Here on Earth, something I picked up in an airport once because it had Oprah Winfrey’s Book Club logo on it. I had never heard of the book, nor of Alice Hoffman but I figured if it was good enough to make the Book Club, it must be pretty good. I had already had a good experience with Oprah’s recommendation of The Deep End of the Ocean by Jacquelyn Mitchard. I bought it. Since then I have read every book Alice Hoffman has written, with the exception of her newest which just came out last month.

Her prose is lyrical, her characters intriguing, and her ability to transport me into another world, one where there is love and tragedy and magic, is something I look forward to experiencing every time I open one of her books. She’s also a prolific writer, releasing a new book almost every year. This year’s magical selection is The Museum of Extraordinary Things. It was released just last month and I hadn’t yet purchased it.

Ms. Hoffman posted a beautiful image on Facebook on Friday afternoon, of our beloved little town, with a caption that just said: Happy to be in Tucson. I had no idea she was here or that she was participating in the Festival. I pulled up the website and there she was, speaking on two panels and then essentially by herself for an hour. I decided to go.

I spent yesterday afternoon on the Great Lawn of the UofA, surrounded by thousands of people I’ll never see again. I sat in on a discussion with my favorite author, and I was mesmerized. Listening to her speak made me feel inadequate. She was funny and open and real. Much of what she said rang so true to me, as a writer. She said basically to just write and write fast, which is something I do and something I’ve said many times. She said that every time she starts a new book she feels like she has no idea how to write a book. She said she has no idea where her ideas come from; they simply show up and announce themselves.

But listening to her made me realize all over again why I wanted to be a writer, and how I am, but not yet the kind of writer I want to be when I grow up. I left the talk, I got a signed copy of her new book (and one for Bobbi as well) and asked her about book festivals. She said she often goes to three or four a year but that this one is her favorite. It’s well run and the people are just wonderful. I told her how much I enjoyed listening to her, thanked her, and then I wandered out through the crowd. The sun was shining, the air blustery. People everywhere were looking at books, buying books, talking to other authors. The magic of the written word filled the desert air. Someday I hope to be lucky enough to have them buying one of my books, to have them talking to me. Until then, I remain mesmerized by words written, especially those of Alice Hoffman, a personal hero of mine who once said that “books may well be the only true magic.”

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live out loud

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