Sunday, March 17, 2013

Driving Into Ideas

          I have posted before about getting ideas on the couch or in bed.  It turns out that this is typical.  In a Business Link survey of UK entrepreneurs 49 percent said they got ideas in bed, and Time magazine did an entire cover story last year on the phenomenon.
            Many writers not only get ideas, but actually work in bed, including Jack London, Walker Percy, Edith Wharton, Colette, Proust, and James Joyce (and Groucho Marx published a book titled Beds).  Then there is this explanatory passage about the creative process from Freddy and the Ignormus by Walter R. Brooks.

            If you are going to write poetry, you need two things.  You need quiet and you need coolness.  You can’t have a lot of people talking to you, and you can’t be all hot and sticky.  Of course you also need paper and pencil. So Freddy always took these along, and he would lie on the bank and write a little, and then think a long time, and then write a little more. Sometimes he would do so much thinking and so little writing that Theodore thought he was asleep. But Freddy said no, he was just thinking very hard.
            “But you don’t snore when you’re thinking,” said Theodore.
            “Sometimes I do,” said Freddy.  “Sometimes I do.  When I’m thinking extremely hard, I snore like anything.”

            In addition to dozing, there are two other times that ideas consistently come to me:  driving and walking.  (I’ll talk about the second in a later, hopefully longer, post.)
            For me, driving, especially on the Interstate, puts me in a meditative state.  It triggers lines from poems, memories, faces of friends, and that, in turn, triggers ideas.  For example, several summers ago, as I was driving home from an out-of-town conference, I found myself remembering the ending of John Donne’s “Valediction Forbidden Mourning.”  Other lines from his work then came to mind, such as “someone who has deeper dugged love’s mines than I/tell me where his happiness doth lie.”   And the opening of “The Sun Rising”:  “Busy old fool, unruly Sun,/Why dost thou thus/Through windows, and through curtains, call on us ? /Must to thy motions lovers' seasons run?/Saucy pedantic wretch, go chide/Late school-boys and sour prentices.”  I’ve always loved the phrase “saucy pedantic wretch” since I first read it as an undergraduate decades ago.  As I said these lines to myself, over and over, I started to shape a poem in response.  Sixty miles later, or roughly an hour, I had a draft.
I understand the criticism of the Interstate system; it has played a part in the destruction of so many wonderful things from downtowns to local accents.  And, yet, I confess, I almost always feel a thrill as I accelerate onto an entrance ramp, and I almost always have ideas when I come off the exit.

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