In the Denver Aquarium there is a flash flood exhibit. It is a semi-darkened room made to look like an empty cavern; artificial boulders and fake plants and the recorded sounds of a storm off in the distance. It tries to simulate reality. And it comes close, a little, almost. Not really. Along one side of the room is a glass partition, beyond that are sculptures made to look like desert arches; orange and gold and amber. I found myself alone in that room one day; waiting close to the glass.
Gradually the exhibit fills with people, the nervous and the curious, the exited and the confused. Some, like me, know what will happen and find their favorite spots. Others look around silently mouthing, ‘What’s going on?’ or ‘What is happening?’ The children rush the glass. Even if they don’t know what will happen whatever it is it’s best to be in front. And all around the sound of the storm begins to grow.
And the sounds get louder, closer. Some begin to huddle together or stand alone with clenched fists. I close my eyes in anticipation. Suddenly the room is a cacophony of sound, thunder and lightning and pouring rain. The speakers blast a news report warning of danger and a siren. Then a torrent of water rushes from behind the desert arches slamming the glass partition. The water splashes over drenching those in front. There are giggles screams and exclamations of ‘Wow! Did you see that?’
And then it is gone. As suddenly as it came the water recedes and the sound and fury fades away. The crowd dissipates and in the end there is nothing left but an empty room waiting for the next storm.
I found myself standing in that empty room wet and exhilarated and just a little sad. This, I thought to myself, is what my creative life is like.
I live in a world of cloud-burst creativity – long periods of drought punctuated by a heavy down-pour of ideas.
There are times when I simply do not have any ideas, just nothing. This is the worst time, when I begin to doubt myself. Maybe everything I have done in the past was just a fluke, maybe I just got lucky. I don’t like those times.
There are other times when I just have vague notions, unfocused and fuzzy. Like a storm in the distance (to keep the metaphor going) just far-off noises. Eventually these ideas, these noises will grow and combine and take shape. So I wait. And I wait and I wait. And wait.
And then bang – it comes. It is a flood of ideas, pouring over me and drenching me. These are happy times. But there is danger of drowning. Too much, too fast, too quickly. The problem with cloud-burst creativity is the window is incredibly small. You have to capitalize quickly gathering as many stories as possible and putting them away like a squirrel in winter. Hoping these will get you through the dry times.
Okay, enough metaphor. I’m mixing them anyway. I guess I’m just trying to come to terms with how I write. Understand the rhythm so to speak. There is no way to know where ideas come from. I’ve read a dozen or more books on ‘how to write’ and listened to coaches talk about method and practice. And I’ve come to the conclusion that the only way to really produce is to come to terms with your idiosyncrasies and not to become discouraged when there are dry spells. I am unique. What works for someone else may not work for me. I know that there will be times when I feel like a fraud, that I have no right to be a writer. And I know that there will be times that I feel like the greatest writer that has ever lifted a pen filled with insight and inspiration. The trick is to understand when these things are happening and to accept them when they do.
And the biggest thing is – be ready. Be ready, do not hesitate. Rush the glass and stand in the front row.
I know this intellectually of course, reality can be something quite different. There are so many reasons and excuses that can pop up that could cause apathy or even fear.
There is a storm coming. Off in the distance, coming closer. I don’t want to miss it.