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Opening the Creative Mind

I'm starting a new project for my final semester. I'm not ready to talk about it yet, because it's still at the stage where it feels like entering a strange new house at midnight--not the teen stalker/slasher flick sort of house, but one I've been invited to by a friend. Still, it's a new house and it's dark and I've got to find my way around without turning on any lights.

I do have a sort of floor plan, in the form of the twenty pages I wrote for workshop and the letter my character wrote to my advisor. That's it.

This week I've been sliding my feet along the metaphorical floors and waving my hands in front of me and to the side, trying to locate landmarks. It's been challenging, to say the least. I've done some work on a character outline, which has helped. (Thank you, Tom Birdseye.) I'll do more on that today, even though it is my birthday, because at this point it's important for me to keep in contact with the character(s) and the story.

I took my characters with me to yoga and let the story rest at the top of my mind, which always helps. As happens when I'm walking, when I'm in a pose and thinking about my breath, the not-paying-direct-attention often allows thoughts to rise to consciousness.

But the thing that has helped me most is something I've experienced before, back in 2010 when the "surreal bollocks" that is the comedy of Eddie Izzard first blew me away (and left me asking, what took me so long?). That experience led to a novel (one that will soon be shopped around). Seeing him in person in Montreal in 2011 led to some sort of strange picture book thingy that I love.

This week I had the supreme pleasure of being able to catch his "United Nations of Comedy" gala at the Just for Laughs/Juste pour Rire Festival in Montreal and his first ever show in Burlington, Vermont. Back to back. Thursday and Friday nights.

Flynn Marquee

Last night, sitting in my very nice seat, filling my lungs with laughter until my already sore cheeks ached even more, I felt my mind open. Literally. I was aware of space in my mind that had not been there.

No, I was not immediately inspired--no fresh brilliant ideas sent the words pouring from my fingers the instant I got home. Still, in the middle of the night I woke with a realization that will make a difference for my current project. The specifics aren't what's important, though.

What matters is why the comedic force majeure that is Eddie Izzard is so important to my creative mind.

It can be summed up in one word.

Openness--or, if you like gerunds--Opening.

Comedy creates openings, both literal and figurative. When you laugh, your mouth is open and you are vulnerable to the world in a way that isn't often possible. But before you laugh, your mind has to be open. Comedy comes from seeing things in a new way, often from juxtaposing things in unexpected ways--the comic can present them, but if the audience isn't there, if their minds aren't open to catch the new juxtaposition, there won't be laughter.

Any comic can do that for any audience.

What makes Eddie Izzard different is his own openness, his willingness to be vulnerable up there on stage. He does this in several ways:

Last night he talked about being an action transvestite and what that meant, about his experience being arrested for shoplifting makeup (a beautifully built-up story with a lovely punch-line). Even as I was laughing, I admired his honesty now, for revealing what it cost him to keep his secret as a teen. I also admired, all over again, the courage it took for the young man who was just starting to find success to reveal the truth and make himself so vulnerable. (--Talk about rocks and hard places: to come out and risk physical abuse and the possibility of losing the professional position you were only starting to gain or to keep a secret and risk it being discovered and the scorn that could be heaped on you.)

As admirable as that sort of openness is, Eddie Izzard offers a far more valuable kind of openness--the vulnerability of improv. He goes off on the most entertaining of tangents and then, when he reaches the end, he asks, "Now where was I going with that?" But those tangents allow him to come up with new material every night, to explore possibilities as they arise. They're a comedic form of not stepping in the same river twice. (They also mean that a 90 minute show can become a 2-hour show, about which I have absolutely no complaints.) Set topics work as stepping stones, providing a path, but around them, everything flows in the moment.

Openness, vulnerability. They're what I need right now as a writer fumbling in the dark. Not that I want to stub my toe, but if I do, so be it.

I will remember how much courage it takes to be a certain sort of teenager, even one who is sure of who s/he is.

I will remember that tangents can be fruitful and until I have all my stepping stones in place, I'm going to give myself full freedom to pursue them. Writing is an act of improv (at least for me), but, as I have said before, it is one we have the luxury of performing in  private.

I will remember to be open and let the possibilities pour in until they overflow into words.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jul. 28th, 2013 01:36 pm (UTC)
Wow! All that can happen in an open mind!

And congratulations on new ideas, and bringing an older one into the world.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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December 2015

Reading Raves

Nation (Terry Pratchett), Men of Salt (Michael Benanav), Paper Towns (John Green), Lavinia (Ursula K. LeGuin), Weight (Jeanette Winterson), The Wizard, the Witch & Two Girls from Jersey (Lisa Papademetriou), Beastly (Alex Flinn), Hogfather (Terry Pratchett), London Calling (Edward Bloor), Before I Die (Jenny Downham), My Mother the Cheerleader (Robert Sharenow), Antsy Does Time (Neal Shuesterman), Against Medical Advice (James Patterson & Hal Friedman), Wait for Me (An Na), Doppelganger (David Stahler), The Year We Disappeared (Cylin Busby, John Busby); Little Brother (Cory Doctorow); King of Screwups (K.L. Going), Tyrell (Coe Booth), Goth Girl Rising (Barry Lyga), Bad Apple (Laura Ruby), The Sky is Everywhere (Jandy Nelson), Hold Still (Nina LaCour), Will Grayson, Will Grayson (John Green & David Levitahn), Seth Baumgartner's Love Manifesto (Eric Luper), Ostrich Boys (Keith Gray), Front & Center (Catherine Gilbert Murdock), Twenty Boy Summer (Sarah Ockler), I Shall Wear Midnight (Terry Pratchett), Tales of the Madman Underground (John Barnes), Please Ignore Vera Dietz (A.S. King), Sex: A Book for Teens (Nikol Hasler), The Girl Who Became a Beatle (Greg Taylor), Crazy (Han Nolan), Pull (B.A. Binns), Pearl (Jo Knowles)
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