How I Write: Guest Blog by Bruce Meyer
I have heard numerous authors lament that they wished they could bottle inspiration. There are those moments, such as the day Hemingway had in a Spanish hotel, when the ideas flow as if they are rivers of wine (the day he wrote three of his best stories ended when the bell-hop interrupted him to offer him a bottle of red). He never got in the flow that way again. Herman Melville kept a top drawer in his dresser filled with dried apples because sniffing them brought on migraines and light shows in which the blood vessels of his neck opened up (more like great seas than rivers) to allow pods of baleens to swim into his imagination.
Here is the commonplace truth about where I get my best ideas: I wake up in the morning. I do my ablutions, shave, and then step into a warm shower and start rubbing my head. Perhaps it is the process of stimulating blood flow to my brain that encourages the images and ideas and even the rhythms that become poems. As the water trickles down my forehead, it is a kind of baptism into a new experience.
Agatha Christie used to get her best ideas in the bathtub. Not one for scented candles, she spent her days soaking until she could discover whodunit.
Ditto for Alexander Pope who suffered from a horrible skin condition most of his life—he found water was therapeutic not merely for the skin but for his poetic imagination. In the case of Christie and Pope, the nearness of water may have reminded them of a time in their mothers’ wombs when they didn’t have or need ideas; and everyone knows that vacancy of thought is the perfect place in which to introduce an inkling.
I set aside a week or two each year to propel myself into vacancy, purposefully, because in that void I finally get the chance to hear myself think and to listen to possibilities that I could not hear over the shower, the drone of morning radio, and the incessant fear that my Blackberry is going to ring at any moment.
Inspiration comes to me on Manitoulin Island. The nearness of water can do remarkable things for a writer. Crossing to the island on the Chichimaun from Tobermory to South Baymouth is, in itself, a mystical experience. Cove Island Light disappears as the Bruce Peninsula and the shadow of Lion’s Head to the south sink into the receding horizon. As my dog and I stand on the afterdeck, we literally watch the world vanish in our wake until we are alone, at sea on an inland sea, with no land to be seen anywhere around us. The wind is in our faces. We peer over the railing (she peers beneath) and watch as the waves mesmerize us. That trip is something akin to having our hard-drives de-fragged. By the time the eight p.m. ferry arrives on the island, there is a stillness and a darkness which are punctuated only by the stars. Heaven is our witness.
The dog and I rise early the next morning. There are few things in this world as remarkable as a sunrise over South Bay—the grey that fades into gold that transforms into a subtle emerald shade that gives way to the blue that is daylight. When the mosquitoes blow off by about nine in the morning, we park ourselves on the dock and look at water. A family of mergansers might float by and draw close. They are my only interruption. My day is spent writing madly. I write as if a floodgate of ideas has opened up. I write until I am exhausted.
Molly Peacock once said that it is a shame I don’t have more time to write during the year, that my career as a poet has been shackled by the fact that I am a summer writer. The reality is that I save up my ideas. Those showers I take every day, through all those winter mornings, are a form of drafting and note-taking; but if I had my druthers, I would live beside water until I am completely poured out.