Writing Right with Dmitri: Reminiscence, Why Dontcha?
I hear people talking about writer's block. About running out of ideas. About the tyranny of a blank page. Now I can understand that if you're assigned a topic, say 'bicycle sprockets, and what they're good for.' You might, in this case, stare balefully at the page, dreading the research and wondering how on earth you're going to make the subject interesting. But a purely blank page? There aren't enough hours in a day, or days in a year, to get down everything you could write about. The only problem is summoning up the next topic from your unconscious.
I will guarantee this: unless you're a completely self-absorbed nincompoop, you have seen, heard, and witnessed enough life to have something to talk about. You might not want to name names, and you might prefer to move the story elements around a bit to avoid embarrassment and, er, lawsuits, but you've got material, trust me on this. You just have to remember it.
So let me make a suggestion: stop going to writing workshops, and shoot the breeze with friends. Once the anecdotes start flowing, you'll have so much material you won't know what to do with it.
For the last two days, I've been trying madly to catch up with our publication schedule. I've been logging, renaming, and uploading photos. Making pages. Lining up photo essays and quizzes and stuffz. At the same time, I've been carrying on transatlantic conversations with h2g2ers. This is good, because the good chat is keeping my mind off the incessant noise of the sewer and street workers, who've been going on for two weeks and won't stop, beep-beep-crash-crash-beep-beep, and the pain in my back, I can't get in to see the chiropractor for another two weeks and if that guy doesn't stop beeping under my window I'll sicc the dog on him, oh heck, Lola's only five pounds and no threat, maybe if I sicc'ed TJ on them, he's bigger but he'd just want to play with their measuring tapes….you get the idea.
Here's something that came out of an email exchange which led to the photo essay included in this issue. It started with aurochs farting and went on to recipes and folk music and led to me running downstairs and making a video, after which we went on to Willie Nelson, but ended up with sex in public. (Yeah, yeah, our minds are in the gutter.) I wrote:
That turtle pic reminds me of a funny story.
When we were freshmen at Pitt (university), Elektra and I used to hang out at the Schenley Nature Museum, so-called. It was a sort of cabin at the edge of Panther Hollow, with displays and animals they'd rescued and couldn't release again. They had an eagle, some owls, salamanders, fish in a tank, and such. Oh, and a spoiled, overfed raccoon.
We'd go over practically every day to talk to the old geezers that ran the place. One was a retired 'T-Man': a G-Man before the FBI was founded. He had tales to tell about chasing bad guys in flivvers with Tommy guns. They also encouraged bad behaviour on the part of Bill the parrot. Bill couldn't fly, but he'd walk over to you and bite you on the ankle, then chuckle, 'Hee, hee, hee,' in a bass voice.
The real boss was an older woman who was there in the mornings. One day, she went through her routine with Bill - he'd hide in a paper bag and sob 'Poor Bill!' until she let him out, he was a complete over-actor - and of course one of the meaner little boys tried to pull out a tailfeather, and Bill bit him, and the kid yelled and cried, and the lady laughed at him and said, 'I TOLD you to keep your hands to yourself! Serves you right.' I was there, and chuckled along with Bill.
This same woman, who was nearly seventy, told me with glee about the mom who'd come up to her and complained that the turtles were 'fighting' and that she should do something. She looked at her and said, 'Lady, they're not fighting. It's spring, and they get a little rough.'
As a student, I talked to every old person I could find. Those people were gold mines.
We gather these little gems and totally fail to share them!
I once caught a rather senior couple doing what comes naturally behind a row of shops. Broad daylight too.
As a young officer, I thought it best to be polite, given their ages, and tapped the guy on the shoulder and asked, 'Can't you go home and do that, folks?'
The old girl looks at me and smiles, 'I could, my love, but my husband wouldn't like it!'
Blushed for days after! Lol.
Now, if you can't write with material like that, you should take up knitting.