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On the Chain Gang

July 27, 2009
chain-gang

I am a Fugitive on a Chain Gang - 1932

I was bereft of writing ideas when I turned my computer on earlier today.  I’ve been sick all week and only just feeling better, and while feeling restless to write it has been counter-balanced by an apathetic hangover from a week of gastro. You could say the blank page was mocking me.

A few ideas rose to the surface but none inspired me enough to want to commit them to paper, let alone inflict them on our readers.

And then I read Paul’s post Approaching the Blank Page – Part One.

Suddenly tiny little super novas started off in my head and in one of those wonderful moments a few interconnected experiences lined up with a couple of ideas, merged and today’s post was born.

Before I get on with today’s post, I’d like to share with you the disparate ideas which coalesced into today’s post.

  • Last year one of my favourite and most challenging Fiction Friday prompts was to choose a book you would never read, pick a random page, take the paragraph at the bottom of the page and use it as the first paragraph of your story. Naphta’s Mountain remains a favourite of my stories – not for the end product but the process through which is was created. One day I might even get around to doing a second draft of it.
  • Months ago at the beginning of my short story critiquing course, our tutor Kate Eltham advised us to spend time writing down – either long hand or typing – a paragraph of writing which resonated with us. She suggested there was something about the process of writing down those words which helped a writer to understand what made the writing so powerful – what made it work! Things which are often missed when simply reading over a piece. It is something I have been meaning to do, but I find it hard to force myself to read short stories and thus don’t get much exposure to any potential mindblowing paragraphs. [This week changed all that for me!]
  • While sick this week I reached for Nick Earls’ book Head Games, desperate for a simple narrative after weeks of dragging myself through the complex and often confusing narrative in  Leaning Towards Infinity. After three chapters, a night of hallucinations, a day of vomiting and time spent prostate in bed wondering how the hell all the characters were related to the plot, I realised Head Games is a book of short stories. So much for the simple narrative I’d asked for – I should have known better picking up a book called Head Games. At least I was able to be a source of amusement for my partner with this story. [In my defence I am saying a) I was very sick and b) it is only in the final pages of the book there is any mention of it as a collected works of!]
  • Sometimes the best way of tackling a blank page for me, especially when there is an ideas drought, is to work from a prompt or to write with others.

Having said all of that … here is the guts of today’s post – it is time to pull your weight on the creative chain gang.

Today there is no blank page.

Following is one of my favourite paragraphs from Head Games. From here you are invited to participate in writing a chain story, poking tongues at blank page syndrome and bypassing the well of elusive ideas, writing and running the story as far as it can possibly go; one person at a time, one paragraph at a time, one comment at a time. Here goes nothing – or everything ….

“It’s night and sometimes you’re asleep and sometimes you’re awake, and you’re dreaming up all the ways of leaving. You are swelling muscles and striding out, as though this has never happened. You are leaving from the roof by a hang glider that’s been waiting for you there all this time. You are leaving in a cab, the same cab that took you home legless from Melbourne Cup … Same cab, same driver. You are leaving in a big marrying car, but shouting to people that you never planned to do that, anyway. You are leaving on a jet plane in three-part harmony dressed for the early seventies.”

Nick Earls ~ All The Ways to Leave pages 98-99 in Head Games.

Jodi Cleghorn has Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” playing in her head and remembering the Spicks and Specks episode where contestants were asked to list the different ways listed in the song. Follow Jodi’s Tweets @jodicleghorn or her expanding blog Writing in Black and White.
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5 Comments
  1. July 27, 2009 5:06 am

    I pull myself up. I’m doing it again. This isn’t the first time I’ve referred to myself like I’m someone else. Especially not when I’m thinking about leaving and all the possibilities. If I say “you’re leaving” then it’s not me worrying about it. If I were me and I were leaving, I would be humming off tune, in an ill fitting Kaftan struggling up the stairs of the jet plane – probably the wrong jet plane, wrong destination, wrong everything. So I pretend it is the other person making this decision about going. Her, not me.

  2. July 27, 2009 5:12 am

    If she left, I would be devastated. Alone and lost without her, I wouldn’t know what to do. If I made the move, I’d be brave, courageous and free to go out on my own.

    But I’m never that brave.

    As I watch her, asleep peacefully beside me, I think things could be much worse. Alone, I would end somewhere far off, by myself. I imagine spending my days working, eating, sleeping, working, eating, and sleeping.

    With her, at least I go places. They may not be the places I want to go, but at least it’s never dull.

  3. July 28, 2009 7:28 am

    So how to stop her from going? For once, words would be of little use. We had the words last night. It was like climbing the wrong way up a helter-skelter; we got to the top and stood on the parapet waiting to jump. Then he backed down. Tried to coax her to come down to. That was when she turned her back and went to bed. That she could sleep so peacefully after the most devastating of scenes never ceased to amaze him. But he knew, tomorrow she would be the prickliest of pears.

  4. Harry permalink
    July 29, 2009 12:53 pm

    Jodi,

    Part of your gastro problem could have been fueled by the prostate that you had in bed.

    But why should you leave? It has happened and there is nothing you can do to change the past. Are you so shallow and self-involved that even your dreams search for a way to escape the tough decisions? Use the remaining hours of the night to salvage the most important part of your life.

  5. July 29, 2009 5:03 pm

    You go me Harry – after careful, post sickness consideration that I was getting the correct word. D’oh. I should think less next time

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