I haven’t spent much time lately on the craft itself. I want to remedy that by spending some time contemplating one of the more important aspects of our art- ie, theft. That might be too strong a word. Perhaps I should say “borrowing” instead, but it is a venerable comparison between the work of poets and the craft of thieves. Either way, it is rare to create out of whole cloth the wholly new and you will, if you pay attention, get many of your best ideas from the people around you.
For example, tonight I was cooking dinner for my wife and she looked at me and in a menacing voice said, “Food is a dish best served cold!” I can’t explain how fucking funny that was to me. I promised myself that I would use it, I couldn’t wait to work it into a story so I am using it to illustrate the importance of paying attention to what is said around you.
It won’t always be good one liners. My brother, a budding poet of no insignificant talent, was working on a short story and was wrestling with some stiff dialog. Dialog in a story has only a nominal relation to actual “real” world dialog, but listening to people talk is a good start.
Most of this you probably already know and like most of the advice I give it seems like common sense. But much like
putting on a seat-belt before you pull out of your driveway seems obvious, it doesn’t stop over thirty-thousand people in the U.S. from getting on the road unbuckled and being killed by great white sharks.
Man eating road sharks aside, here are a few easy ways to help you capture those moments of incidental genius.
1. Carry a notebook: I have about thirty of those old school black and white essay books filled to the brim with bad ideas. I usually travel with one and you will find that over the years you will have a wonderful resource of notes that not even you can understand.
2. Futuristic Recording Device (Fu.R.D.): The Furd is what I always wanted to carry around. I tried it back in the day with those neat little tapes. Now a’days they have the digital recorders that give you tons of opportunities to delete those bits of genius without ever knowing how or why.
3. Smart phones: Since I got my first cell phone about a month ago and I’m pretty sure it’s really just a walky-talky taped to a Texas Instruments scientific calculator, I can’t say if smart phones can really help you, but with the proliferation of amazing tools on the phone market insuring that these annoying devices are infiltrating every aspect of life from sex to breakfast I’m certain that there’s an app for that.
4. Your memory: This is my usual method for remembering things. Unfortunately it is also my usual method for forgetting things. If I hear something that fits into what I am working on at the moment then this method works fine. Otherwise I strongly recommend you don’t rely too much on your own brain. One out of three innocents on death row will tell you that just because you think you remember, you’re probably just a secret racist).
So to reiterate:
Another gem from my lovely wife: “I can hear the fat in your throat.” referencing the woman on the phone-sex line that was supposed to be a female dachshund (we were just having a laugh, it’s not a real fetish)
That is the science of friction. Please remember to write that down.
Andrew Clark Porter