I like studying faces in a parking lot Cause it doesn't remind me of anything I like driving backwards in the fog Cause it doesn't remind me of anything --Audioslave, Doesn't Remind Me
I was talking with my art teacher from high school on Facebook Messenger the other day – what an amazing world we live in. I forget that sometimes when I get bogged down in doom scrolling the daily horror show. But I digress.
She showed me some of the art she’s been making lately. They were beautiful – one of a hand clutching a fist-full of dandelions, and the other a doctor wearing a face mask, shield and gloves, surrounded by a decorative field of syringes.
The first one put me immediately in mind of the art from the book Masquerade, an early eighties treasure-hunt-in-a-book that featured some gorgeous art:
I mentioned this to her, and then realized almost immediately I had indulged in something that comes more and more easily to me as I get older – comparing art to something I had already seen.
I find this happening increasingly as I age. As we pile up more life experiences, our brains try to connect it all into some semblance of order, where all the threads weave together to make some grand tapestry.
This restaurant reminds us of that one we ate at three years before in San Francisco – even the fries taste the same! Or that singer sounds just like Annie Lenox, back when she was with the Eurythmics.
It’s comforting, being able to classify things, to put them in their allotted place in our mental menagerie. But there’s also something missing when everything becomes so familiar – that spark of discovery, the spine-tingling thrill of newness.
As writers, we’re subject to this too. As a culture, we have centuries of literature to draw upon, and most of us are avid readers. Over the years we develop a mental catalogue of plots and characters and story ideas that are all sloshing around up there in our gray matter, queueing up and waiting their turn to flow out onto our pages in a new and hopefully pleasing order.
Writers are the product of all of our past reads.
When I was younger, I had this conviction that I’d be at my best as a writer when I reached my forties, because I’d have a lot more life experience to draw on for my work. I still think that’s true, but it sometimes comes at the expense of that feeling of exploration and wonder I used to feel every time I sat down to write.
Every now and then, though, it flares to life again. Something I read or something someone says sparks an idea in my crazy brain that doesn’t feel quite like anything else.
Those are moments I treasure as a writer, which fire up that old writing spirit – when I’m off on the chase after something wonderful and new.
I like writing strange things that sing to me
Cause it doesn’t remind me of anything.
To my writer friends, how do you find the wondrous, different and new in your work?