Monday, May 27, 2013


Northern California I-5 photo by Dot 2012

I've had conversations about the creative process and time with writers, artists, my therapist, others who are interested. Off and on the concept of percolating comes up. There are other words for this process but I like percolating.

I think I like this word because I like coffee. Maybe. Or maybe for other reasons like the fact that it's a movement word. It doesn't just sit there on the page and stare at you and, for me, it doesn't bring my brain to rest. It moves like bubbles, like what it does.

And when I use percolating in conjunction with creativity - right now, with writing - it reminds me that it takes time to get to the good stuff. I like my coffee strong, powerful flavor. If you've been following my posts you probably know I switched to decaf coffee (98% of the time, anyway) so percolating is even more important. Some people tell me they can't taste the difference between regular coffee and decaf, that it's all in my mind. It isn't; or maybe it is but that's my perception. So a weak, under-percolated cup of decaf is, as Jasmin in "Bagdad Cafe" says, "brown water." It has to brew and broil and soak in the flavor, the essence.

Okay, I'll stop with the metaphor though there is more; I'll save it for another time.

My point is that percolation happened. I don't even know if that is a word and I'm not taking more time to look it up. But the process of letting input, inspiration, thought, new information sit in my head an soak up the juices and mix with what is already there, works.

It worked yesterday and I wasn't even trying.

I believe we each have our own way, our own process, of getting to the good stuff.

Mine is definitely time and attention mixed with appropriate diversion - such as driving.

Wait! Let me explain.

I am a very good driver. But sometimes driving provides my busy brain - my contemplating, curious, analytical brain - a nice focus so that creative things can, well, percolate. Because driving requires attention : to the road, to cars, to lights, and weather and temperature, and being alert - being "on." So for me, when I'm struggling with a piece of writing or working on a creative idea and I feel like I need to get into it and reason out a "correct" path or approach, I often need to step back and do something else. And doing something like driving - especially driving on the freeway in minimal traffic for an hour or two or three provides just that type of analytical distraction which lets my creative energy float and gurgle and metamorphosize into the thing which is there but my rational brain doesn't see.

And that happened yesterday.

The ride back from Port Townsend, from the intense and wonderful and power filled workshop with Lidia Yuknavitch, was long but I wasn't alone. Much good had happened in the workshop, around the workshop. And driving home, with my partner and with my friend Deb, we were talking about creativity. About topics from the workshop, our own processes (my partner is an artist, in case you didn't know!), and for Deb and I we talked about our writing before the workshop and after the workshop and plans. So we spent a lot of time talking about creativity and the energy around it.

And more than halfway home I started to get an idea about something I struggled with in the workshop. It's something I've struggled with on the memoir pretty much since I started writing it - since it became "the memoir" which was not at all what I was intending to write. I've definitely struggled with it the past two years and have been repeatedly asked questions like: "what's the point?" "what's your platform?" "what's your throughline?" - things like that. I've come up with flat answers or partial answers but nothing has been right. Including three versions I came up with this weekend, only one of which I shared and I didn't like it at all.

But there I was driving home, with two other people in the car. And as our conversation dwindled, my partner was reading and Deb was thinking and I was driving-thinking, it came to me. I wanted to shout it and I also wanted to be silent. I did smile to myself in the dark and repeated my thoughts several times and wanted to wait until I could put it on paper at home, look at it, see if it still felt right.

And I did. Not a word except to myself.

Clue one that is was correct is that I still remembered my throughline - and my end point (my telos, thank you to Lidia Yuknavitch for that label) - when I got home. Retaining the information is a good sign. We unpacked the car, transferred Deb's belongings to her car and she drove home. I unpacked my bag and put things away then I sat down. And wrote the two phrases.

And they were still "just right." They looked good, they felt good, they felt right.

They had percolated and all of my digging in the workshop and over the past couple of years couldn't dig them up. They surfaced, while my busy bee brain was working on something else.


See? Percolating is a good thing. And I'm still smiling and the phrases are written in purple Sharpie on pink sticky notes attached to the front of my computer where I will see them every day. (And they exist in emails to Deb, my partner, and Lidia.)