Sunday: Church for a Writer's Soul In Session
We seem to have a western theme around here. We have a cat named Annie Oakley, and we have a dog named Calamity Jane. Both seem exceptionally well-named. CJ is calamitous. And Annie, well. She's an accentric cowgirl/pistolera for sure. She walks Chayo to the school bus in the morning and waits till she gets on the bus, then walks home. She helps me garden. At night, if I go downstairs to use the bathroom, she comes down and hollers at me through the door, then leads me back up to bed. Once, in our other, more ghetto neighborhood on the far west side of Chicago, she not only got shot in the side by some evil-doer, but she caught a full-grown rabbit, climbed a tree with it in her mouth, jumped in an upstairs window, and let the rabbit go in our apartment. Big fun. She used to stalk Megan all over the house and leap out at her from behind furniture, counting coup and apparently hoping to kill and eat her. And when she's bored, she likes to play fetch. We named her Annie Oakley because we had once been stranded in Oakley, KS, after I locked our keys in the car in a Sunday. We were at a snake farm. The owner asked the kids, "Ya know what cows do on weekends?" No, they said. "They go to the moo-vies!" he said. Then he banged on his rattlesnake pens with a stick so they'd rattle at Eric. He sold dried animal poo with little wiggly eyeballs glued on them, and he called them Turdie Birdies. They played golf. How could you not name your cat after that? Still--leave it to us to have a cat that seems to have jumped out of a storybook.

I was looking at a quote from Susan Sontag. She was in a wise woman moment: "Fewer and fewer Americans possess objects that have a patina, old furniture, grandparents' pots and pans
--the used things, warm with generations of human touch...essential to a human landscape."

This really caught my eye, because it had been one of my writing prompts/stunts at workshops when I feel inspired or prepared. I am not often prepared anymore--I am so busy doing nothing that actual tasks fall on me like attacks from above. Workshops hit me like a hunting owl on Annie's rabbit, and I often look up from my notebook or my laptop and say, HUH? WHA? But some folks will recall my basic fascination with old crap.

At Fishtrap, I sometimes give my writers strange pictures. Strange, not becaus ethey're post-cards of thirty foot catfich or cowgirls riding giant rabbits, but strange because pictures of strangers are always strange. We humans are strange. And, as Rod Stewart so halpfully pointed out, "Every picture tells a story...." Who is that crew-cut skinny boy in front of the scraggly Xmas tree in 1966? Beats me. But he looks either happy or horribly haunted, and I can't tell which. My favorites are a series of pictures I discovered in my mom's photo album after she died. They're pictures of fine ladies in the 30's with nice dresses and fancy hats, and they're all trying to lead cows around with leashes. WHA?

So you deal out these cards to the writers and ask them to tell the story of the image.

The other one I liked to do when I was young and dashing was The Picnic Basket of Destiny. It was, yes, a picnic basket! Full of crap! Covered with a towel! Students had to reach in and grab the first thing their fingers touched, and they had to write a story about whatever they pulled out! Toys! Old shoes! A pocket of buttons! Music boxes! An ancient ornament! A watch!

All alive and fuming with human vibes.

The poet, Levi Romero, a low-rider shaman of New Mexico, once gave me the coolest gift. He gave me a filthy, rusted, mis-shapen old tobacco tin. He had walked up an arroyo outside of Albuquerque somewhere, and had pried it out of the dirt. I have it with me still. You can imagine the old-timers rolling their smokes. You can hear their laughter and gossip. The dirt and the rust make you feel the years rushing down that arroyo like the rain water in monsoon season. It's a haunting.

I think, as writers, we go out like Annie Oakley, and we hunt. Don't we? We look for story, we listen for angels or devils, we bask and we fret and we prowl. We bring stuff back.

If you want to write something cool, go to a used clothes shop or a Goodwill or a church thrift store. A cheap one. In the shadowy part of town. And walk until something hisses at you. Maybe it's that tacky one-eyed doll. Maybe it's those sad orthopedic shoes. A hat. A dress. Maybe it's something you didn't know you were looking for. Maybe it was looking for you. Maybe it doesn't want to be forgotten.

Maybe it needs you to write its story.

Somebody touched it.

Somebody used it.

Somebody might have loved it.

And now they're gone.

How can you fail to explode in song?

Embrace the Pathetic Fallacy, y'all.

I'm cooking chili right now--man, you ought to taste it. It's just like writing a good poem. Annie's asleep on my bed, and Calamity Jane is snoring like a tractor. See you on Immigration Monday.

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