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The Accidental Sponge

March 2, 2010

Let me indulge myself with another one of my extended metaphors. Sometimes when you clean up some spilled grape juice with a sponge, so much grape juice soaks into the sponge that when you try to use the sponge again later, grape juice comes leeching out. All over your nice white counter top, too.

In this metaphor, I am the sponge. The grape juice is everything. Television, books, movies, news stories, the squirrels outside the window who give me sinister squirrel looks (seriously, squirrels always look like they’re plotting to me, as if they’re thinking, “If we team up we could break through that window, hold that lady down, tie her up, and eat all the food in her refrigerator.” There’s a gleam in those little round black eyes, and it’s an evil gleam. But I digress…). I soak up the grape juice that is everything, and eventually I get inundated with it and start squirting it back out, completely by accident, into my own work.

Recently I absorbed a TV show. Somehow Farscape ended up in my writing. I started a new sci-fi short and in my head the protagonist is D’Argo, all big and red and tentacle-y. Not only does he look like a television character in my mind, but he’s a criminal of sorts running from the “enforcers.” Yeah, that’s not a thinly veiled Peacekeepers reference, is it? (To those of you who are not sci-fi geeks, I apologize. Does my blog ever make sense to you?)

I haven’t absorbed something so fully that it manifested itself in my writing like this in a while, but it used to happen quite frequently. I think when I was younger I tended to hyper-focus on a particular author or genre a bit more. In my early middle school days, I read a lot of Agatha Christie. I read her exclusively, one book right after the other. When I ran out of books at home, I took them out of the library

in St. Mary-Stockbridge, the quaint New England town I called my home. Its sunlit streets and pleasant shops reflected the kind of idyll in which one could leave one’s doors open at night and trust one’s maid not to steal one’s priceless diamond brooch.

Outside the dressmaker’s, Mrs. Polly Edmonds paced back and forth, chewing her thin lip in agitation. Where was that horrid girl?

I mean, I read almost all of Christie’s books in that manner, except for some very early stories. And I started to notice a certain…tone…creeping into my own work (yes I was in middle school, so sounding like Agatha Christie was probably better than sounding like a whiny adolescent). I remember noticing this tone. I remember that it frightened me. I remember thinking, “Here I am, I’m supposed to be developing my own voice, and not only am I not making progress, I’ve gone backwards!”

I’m pretty sure that “backwards step” was really just another step along the road to becoming a better writer. By the time those late middle school years hit, I had moved on to a new obsession anyway: that priestess of poetic gloom, Sylvia Plath. And how my poems suddenly overflowed with

my father’s Nazi guilt

I mean…no, not that. They overflowed with dark imagery, like

a yew tree spreading its branches to strangle the barren moon

Well, something like that. The older I got, the more I came to recognize this tendency of mine to absorb whatever I was reading. I developed my own style more fully and it became less of a problem. Listen: I no longer have this problem. It’s gone. Kaput. No more. And so on.

I did discover other writers whose works I read quite a bit. One of them was a man called Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. He wrote a book called Breakfast of Champions. Here is what it looks like:

Breakfast of Champions

Also, wide open beavers. Just thought I’d throw those in. I’m not sure why…

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One Comment leave one →
  1. roz permalink
    March 3, 2010 8:36 am

    the last two sentences of this post made me happy inside.
    (quite possibly because i haven’t read nearly as much sylvia plath or agatha christie … )

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