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Like Ink in Water – the sensual, surreal process of creation

Posted by E on April 11, 2008


A photographer friend recently asked me about motivation. What motivates me to write? I told her that it all depends on what it is I am trying to convey and express. Some things are easier so they come forth smoothly; other subjects I try to write about are deeper, harder to translate into words, and by default the process is painful and tedious. But my biggest motivation is feeling compelled that I have to record something on paper – I selfishly want to re-experience, regurgitate a moment, whether lived or imagined.
I used photography as an analogy. I asked her, When you have a camera in hand and you see a magnificent image, you feel that you just have to take that shot, right? That there is no time but this moment, and you can somehow capture it and the essence of it, all in this one snapshot. Maybe it works, maybe it doesn’t. But you just have to take that shot.

For me, writing is just as compelling. There are times when I am tired or lazy or just can’t figure out how I’m going to capture that shot (the feeling/the story/the imagery) but I still know that I have to do it. If not today, then tomorrow – but that story still needs to be birthed, to come into reality, to have a life of its own. And if I try to look away from it and ignore it, it pecks at the back of my head like an insufferable, invisible chicken until I’m breathless – and I write in order to release that thing inside me onto paper, and then I can breathe again.

This is how I would describe this sensual, surreal process so it is palpable to a reader.

You drop a splash of dark blue ink into a large vase full of water, and watch the swirl take shape – you wait, tantalizingly slow, like a word on your lips that has yet to be formed and takes unbearably long to crystallize, like a fragrance that hovers over your head.

You must watch carefully, for the shape could be interpreted as anything and you must allow it to discern its own life, be borne into its own identity before you can paint it as its genuine self, before you can attempt to capture it into a description, before you can glue it into the confines of a preposition.

You wait.

The swirl of ink becomes a dancer with a ribbon stretching her back. Her silent aquatic ballet steps are capricious like the flicker of a flame, or the whirl of smoke rising out of an opium pipe.
The ink undulates inside its water trap, refusing to be assimilated.
It is as oily as blood, integral to itself.
The woman’s hair flows in slow motion, blue veins traversing across her face like sand spiders in an alien desert, in a place where there are no words, no punctuation other than a peculiar clustering of stars against an indigo horizon.
The solitude of a swirl uncoiling, rippling, a snake of ink dissolving into ether, furious and fragile all at once. It has both the fury of a summer thunderstorm against an evening sky, and the fragility of a little girl in a blue nightgown.

In the intensity of a moment without time, you wait to capture it, you await under the tree of your story, your face upturned, waiting for the words to descend onto your eyes like white blossoms in spring.

How will you know what it feels like when you are ready to begin writing? It is as though the most magnificent bird in the world is about to perch on the branch of the tree sprouting up just in front of you, and you have only one last exposure in your camera to imprint it upon. You wait for that moment, that moment of sweat and trepidation when your heartbeat becomes one with the pulse of the wind, the screech of a northern goose, the pounding of rain against a window pane. And then you write.
You take it.
You take this moment.
You give it this one shot left in you, the moment you have waited for forever, and it doesn’t matter whether you will capture its full feathered body or just the edge of a wing in flight – you don’t think about those things anymore, you are past them.

You only write.

Because it no longer matters whether you give birth to that sensation inside you, whether your portrayal can do it justice. This moment is not about you taking a photo, drawing a nude, writing a story. It is about that opening in you – the space inside the crevice of a tree, inside the fold of a feather – from which something with a life of its own can crawl out.

Your purpose here is only to give birth. You are a channeler, a midwife who enables that which cannot be spoken, to take form.

The story already exists – it has its own predetermined shape. Given enough time, it will use your body, use your bloodstream, use your life force to carry itself out into the world. Given sufficient space, it will birth itself.

All you have to do is wait patiently at the gates of the unknown.

3 Responses to “Like Ink in Water – the sensual, surreal process of creation”

  1. […] Original post by Technorati Search for: poetry […]

  2. Caroline said

    Comparing the creation of a piece of writing to the swirl of ink in water is a most arresting analogy, and very apt.

    The ego, or better still, vanity of the writer is also an important ingredient in the evolving of a poem or story or essay, for we writers all crave readers who will admire and praise what we write.

    You write beautifully, and I’ll return to read more of what you’ve written.

  3. […] They can now be viewed at Town Hall, … Ink in Water – the sensual, surreal process of creation ? A photographer friend recently asked me about motivation. What motivates me to write? I told her […]

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