Sometimes an idea flares in the brain – spontaneous combustion – and it’s big and bright and I bask in its wonderful glow. But when that’s used up, it’s easy to think that every idea will be like that – intense and consuming, shimmering and sparky. So I wait in the dark for the flame to start. Crouching there, I look into a void.
Many years ago I read “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert M. Pirsig. There’s a wonderful story in there that has always stuck with me. The details are foggy now but basically one of the characters is studying at University. He is asked to write a 3000 word essay on a topic of his own choosing. Two weeks later he goes to his professor and says “I chose America as my topic. I’m struggling to write more than a thousand words. Can you help me?”. The professor tells him that his topic is too big. “Go to the library,” says the Professor. “Choose one brick in the library wall and write about that.” The character goes off thinking the Professor is crazy but, sure enough, he writes more than 3000 words easily about that single American brick.
So now, when I’m waiting in the dark, I try to reduce my expectations from that great flame to just a tiny little spark. I look through photos from my walks, staring at flower shapes and the way light glances off tree trunks. I scroll through text conversations with friends looking for thoughts I’ve had while chatting. Sometimes all I get is one descriptive line with no real idea in it. If I’m lucky I can turn that into a short poem – like a Haiku. Sometimes I’m lucky and something real balloons out of those captured moments from my walk or the lines of text. But sometimes, I sigh and go and do something else, hoping that in the background, my brain is still whirring through images and words and will shoot out a spark for me to tend to.
Simmering purple skies
evening’s poetry across fingered wings
the blackness of bats