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indelible images

A friend drove across the country to her teaching job in another state, a toilet and bathtub in the back of her car. I never saw that, but I "remember" it, just as I remember the flooded house in Marilynne Robinson's Housekeeping: "If we opened or closed a door, a wave swept through the house, and chairs tottered, and bottles and pots clinked and clunked in the bottoms of the kitchen cabinets." And, later, "Our walking from the stairs to the door had set off an intricate system of small currents which rolled against the floorboards."

We all exist inside a tsunami of information/experiences/demands/possibilities. One way we sort it out is by making narratives about what's happening (not just writing stories, but walking around talking to ourselves or our friends and families). We focus on certain details that then give our story its characteristic flavor or emotional coloration. Are we delighted? Outraged? Either the feeling leads to the images, or the images help create the feeling. Sometimes, leading a workshop, like many other instructors, I ask everyone to shut their eyes and think of which images they remember from the story. What makes those images memorable and how do they change the way we feel about the characters/events?

A huge rainstorm this week -- the construction project for the middle school field that backs against our fence is now flooded, a shining lake full of seagulls, ducks, wild geese flapping in the water. The Robinson passage captures that delight in watching forces of water or fire take back the ground, for a little while, before it's smoothed out and Astroturfed. Another way of writing about floods would be the righteous indignation provoked by the disaster, the hushed tone of commiseration with the inevitable suffering victims. So much early-draft/beginning writing is dedicated to this hushed commiseration or righteous outrage. And there are, at every single moment, an astonishing number of things to be outraged about. I am outraged about so many of them myself.

Here's a new touchstone image for me, a visual one from Satoshi Kon's anime film Paprika: the stream of clanging, dancing, confetti-strewn refrigerators and mailboxes and oversized porcelain dolls, a lucky/beckoning cat waving its paw, flute-playing frogs, enthroned mad dreamers. Satoshi Kon called this, in his DVD interview, the "parade of everything under the sun." It's funny, scary, outrageous, delicious. You want to run from it, and you want it to go on and on.

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juicy images

Great insights... Some visual impressions really are worth a thousand  (or so) words. They are a writer's motor indeed. Coming up at redroom.com, we'll be developing ways to share some of the pictures that inspire our writing.

I haven't seen Paprika yet, but your description reminds me of the surreal sequence at the end of the 70s film Zabriskie Point, an explosion that sends a stream of possessions flying through the air, captured in slow-mo. Life's ephemera carries a certain poignancy, especially presented in these ways - stirring up the nostalgic tornado of culture we carry in our image-laden minds, the random gallery of symbolic meaning and things held dear.

Naomi from Red Room