Tricking the Brain to Write

Digging through dusty folders on my laptop, trawling for inspiration, I rediscovered this silly little thing, the first real poem I ever wrote, penned in the hours after the onset of my first infatuation:

I don’t remember where we’d gone

what we’d talked about

what she wore

or the weather

I do recall our greeting, the surprise cheek-peck, the embrace

the first sign

the sudden tensing of our bodies like two charged wires

A premonition, the tingling air expecting a lightning stroke.

Hours passed cinematically – we raced the sun as it did its best to steal our time from us.

“I’ll get my car,” I said – her parents would meet her on the other side of campus

whisk her away, teasing me, but

as our sleek white carriage crawled to a reluctant stop, my instinctive sideways bird-glance showed that her parents had not arrived.

The sun, sympathetic, stood still.

We mumbled half-goodbyes from the corners of our eyes

like restaurant mutterings, they filled the empty space between that moment and THAT moment.

Our eyes quivered

left-right, left-right, searching

Our fingers curled in a silent question – we were both cowards, afraid of the unknown.

In swift crescendo our faces rushed together

I felt a spirit burst from my diaphragm and fly from my throat

eyes naturally closed, my finger-question unfurled in surprise, and shock!

Then, as suddenly and spontaneously as it began, it was over,

her delicate feet stepping onto the sidewalk,

bearing on their soles a seventeen-year hope.

I still like this poem, as sentimental as it is – for me, its actual poetic merits notwithstanding, it represents the acute expression of raw and unbridled emotion, something I sometimes have trouble expressing in writing.

Lately I’ve been trying to give the creative half of my brain a little kick in the pants. I think my mind has been too passive, too receptive – I’ve been sitting back and letting all the video games and anime and HBO wash past my eyes over a brain still probably binging on the post-graduate/pre-employment vacuum of responsibility or obligation. Moreover, when I have sat and thought I’ve been preoccupied with the (vastly overrated, of course) real life issues – law school applications, fellowship preparations, politics and Arab Springs and Obama apologism. I haven’t been letting my imagination breathe.

While on an airplane headed to Beijing a month ago or so, I found myself forcibly detached from the usual proclivities with which I fill my empty time. No Facebook, barely any internet access, and most assuredly no video games. Anticipating this dearth of entertainment I packed David Foster Wallace’s “A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again” in my carry-on, a book I seem to always be able to pick up and read straight through without becoming restless from repetition. After finishing Wallace’s (amazing and almost scarily prophetic) essay “E Unibus Pluram,” I found myself in the kind of mood I hadn’t felt for months. I wanted to write. Not on a keyboard, but with a pencil on paper. And not even college ruled, three-hole punched, obsessive-compulsively marginally perforated paper, but on a more primal surface, a simple blank white page. Scrambling in my backpack I dug up a sketchbook that appeared to have been fossilizing in a sedimentary formation for years. Flipping past various sketches from my young adolescence (I reuse the same notebooks for decades), I scratched furiously, totally degrading the quality of the paper in parabolas of text that drooped wearily towards the spiral binding. By the end of the twelve-day trip, I’d filled almost the entire sketchpad with what’s probably a load of random and incoherent rants and observations. What struck me several weeks later was the sheer level of inspiration good ol’ DFW had managed to inspire in me, in combination with an environment that mechanically prohibited me from losing endless hours online. So in an attempt to recreate this feeling, I’ve been scientifically assessing and tearing down the patterns that have papered the recent walls of my mind and putting up new ones. I’m trying to play less games and read more great literature, to spend less time on the internet and more time at the piano. It’s working – even on my bike rides or neighborhood runs I seem to spend most my time zoning out, my brain creating free-wheeling narratives out of passersby and random bolts of inspiration crossing overhead. It’s a familiar feeling, but one I’d started to lose. I couldn’t be more glad to have it back.


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