The Lightbulb

Had one of those moments yesterday that really makes this whole being a writer thing worth the heartbreak it usually consists of.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, but this is some Sisyphean business most of the time.  Push the rock.  Push the rock.  Push the rock.  Why is the rock down the hill again?  There’s a reason they say works of art are never finished, only abandoned.

But sometimes, sometimes you get that light bulb, and it shows you something whole enough that you can make a thing out of it, and when it does, oh man, that is some good shit right there.  But the switch is only flipped for so long, so when you get that brief illumination, you have to drop what you’re doing and get it down, or you could lose it quick as you found it.

I had that experience yesterday (it’s been awhile).  I was in the shower, starting the process of getting ready for work.  I had already cleaned myself, and was getting ready to shut off the water and finish my personal toilet when for whatever reason I started thinking about this thing I saw at Burning Man maybe ten years ago, and the guy who had built it, and then I was thinking about Wilhelm Reich, and orgones, and everything just started to snowball from there.  A story-frame (and title) crystallized in my brain as if from the aether, and I barely stopped to towel myself off before I ran to the table, still naked, and grabbed a pen and paper.  Over the course of maybe eight minutes I scribbled a page and a half synopsis teasing out that frame into a more-or-less complete story arc.

I’ve only had this experience a few times.  Most of my story ideas are partial, a few half-formed notions that might be fit together, or, if I’m lucky, a starting place that looks like it might lead somewhere.  It’s only rarely that I get the whole thing all at once.  Sometimes it happens to me when I’m dreaming near the surface of consciousness, but I always forget before I wake up, and only remember that I had this really great, totally complete idea that I recall not a single detail of.  When it does happen while I’m awake, I’ve learned to get as much of it down as I can as quickly as I can, because, like dreams, they fade into wisps of psychic nothingness at the slightest provocation.

Mainly I feel gratitude.  I’ve been encountering a lot of internal resistance to getting my work done lately (one reason I’ve been blogging as much as I have), and to have a new idea to play with, one whose problems are only in minor details, and not in the story itself, is a gift from the Muses (or wherever inspiration comes from), and I can only be grateful for its occurrence.

Most of the time, this whole writing thing is a bunch of hard work with no payoff aside from the doing, unless you’re either really lucky, really good at it, or both.  But if you look deeper, past the mundanities of career and success, there are rewards to the endeavor that go beyond any material consideration or even the adulation of others.  These flashes of inspiration, these crystallizations of meaning out of the dreck and dross of your churning subconscious, are priceless, treasures beyond compare, and to be privileged to receive them is something that makes the whole slog up that hill worth it.

Maybe I got lucky.  Maybe I earned it.  It doesn’t really matter.  What matters is it’s time to get to work.

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