Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Occupational Hazards

After resisting for two years, I finally caved in and watched the first few episodes of Californication on Showtime. Aside from the ubiquitous boobs that a show of this title implies, I found myself liking Hank, the once-bestselling-author-now-suffering-from-writer’s-block. And I could especially relate when, after getting caught talking to a nonexistent person in his car, he says, “Sorry. Professional hazard.”

I suffer from professional hazards of this ilk on a daily basis. My daughter, who is only seven, recently said with a sigh, “Mama left the planet again.” I’m afraid I often have trouble staying focused, and don’t even get me started on what happens when I’m driving with a film score playing in my CD player. Let’s just say I can go miles without actually “seeing” anything, though how I can still have the wherewithal to slam on my brakes if need be I’ll never know.

Another occupational hazard referenced in the fictional world of writers comes from Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon. He calls our creative insomnia the “midnight disease.” When I get to the point where I have trouble falling asleep – for hours – I know I’m on a good writing streak. It seems that as soon as I put my head on the pillow, the best ideas begin flowing. Sometimes I have to give in and get up, regardless of the time, to write whatever it is that’s drilling a hole in my brain.

My favorite, and probably the most unique of the writer’s occupational hazards, is Internal Narration. This too gets a humorous nod in Wonder Boys. I have a terrible habit of narrating everything I observe or experience, especially when I’ve just come from a long bout of writing. I’ll mentally describe the appearance of the woman in front of me in line, or the way someone’s eye twitches while they’re talking to me, or the colors in a sunset. Unfortunately nothing is taboo when it comes to my internal narration; even sex gets translated into flowery prose. (Sorry, Jim.)

In that same vein of internal narration is my inability to resist visualizing everything I read or hear about. And I mean everything. This includes every cliché, metaphor or proverb coming to life in my mind. If I don’t know the person being referenced, it doesn’t matter. I will just picture a vague form doing…whatever it is. So please, best to keep your scatological humor or sayings to yourself. And don’t tell me about your latest sexual exploits. Call it an overactive imagination; it’s automatic and there’s nothing I can do about it.

So in conclusion: I’m sorry if I was composing dialogue in my head while we were having lunch. I’m sorry if I drove past the bank. Twice. I’m sorry I mentally described your eyebrows as geriatric caterpillars. I’m sorry I stole the name you were saving for your baby and gave it to one of my characters. Along with one of your personality disorders. And I’m sorry that I’m tired and cranky today; I was up at 3:00 a.m. reworking my ending. Oh yeah, and I’m sorry dinner wasn’t ready when you got home. I was blogging.

The thing is, I just can’t help it.


Linda Kage said...

I know exactly what you mean. Some mornings I drive to work and start thinking story-stuff. I get three-quarters there before I return back to the planet and think, "Holy Cow. Did I remember to stop at the four-way back there?"

Sometimes I'll think up a funny scene and laugh out loud. My hubby will give me that arched-brow look, wondering what set me off that time.

Ashley Barnard said...

Yay! I'm glad I'm not the only one.

Julie Eberhart Painter said...

So true and so well written that you also sold me on your writing.

As to Linda, I drove through a red light a few years ago and my wise companion, a fellow writer, quietly stated, "Sweetie, you just drove though that light." It was way too late to slam on the brakes, and luckily no one, especially one of our grouper troopers, was around.


Jude Johnson said...

LOL Ashley, people often accuse me of talking to myself when I'm having a conversation with my characters. Best time is driving that 120 mile stretch of I-10 between Tucson and Phoenix - no lights to worry about (other than the pretty blue and red ones in the rearview mirror, of course) and with the right music, I've written whole chapters.