(I like to think of each fiction story I write as a custom cocktail with each their own flavors and inspiration. “Cocktail Recipes” posts are my behind the scenes thoughts where I can share with you guys my inside jokes, inspiration, and little of the personal stuff that goes into each colorful drink.)
Haven’t read “Death in the Morning” yet? Check it out on Medium!
(Drink pairing for this story: Death in the Afternoon (Absinthe based))
So, I wrote this story in about 30 minutes before going to work, which is unheard of for me.
Now, my writing process is normally like a UFC fight. I punch, kick, and tackle my muse to the ground, forcing it to submit its creativity to me, willing it—begging it, even—to release the ideas lurking and plaguing my brain and let them bubble up out of the darkness to manifest themselves as words. Sometimes, I win and—after a long, drawn out fight—weakly stumble to my feet in victory, breathlessly holding a hard earned first draft as my trophy. Other times, my muse knocks me out in the first 30 seconds of the fight. (By the way, am I the only one who views my muse as a sparring partner? Huh…)
With “Death in the Morning”, however, it was nothing like that at all. It was one of those rare times where I was helpless to my ideas and words just came pouring out until I realized after finishing that, yes, just like in the story, I was in fact late for work.
Much like the story suggests, the idea came because I was reading a poem—and failing. I’ve been challenging myself lately to develop a better appreciation for poetry. One of the ways to do that has been reading a poem every morning when I wake up. So, my day typically starts like this:
1. Wake up to the boisterous, industrial sound of my coffee maker grinding up the beans and brewing a pot according to its preset timer.
2. Stumble out of bed and blindly wander around, following the scent of the fresh roast.
3. Accidentally pour coffee on my hand because I’m not awake enough yet to sufficiently see where I’m pouring the pot.
4. After cursing the hotness of the coffee on my burned hand while at the same time blessing it profusely for its caffeinated goodness, sit down with a warm cup and read a poem—then re-read it five times because I’m too dumb to understand it the first four times.
On the particular morning that I wrote this story, I came across a more-difficult-than-normal poem. I think it was by Pierre de Ronsard, but I don’t remember the name of the poem itself. Regardless, I stared at that poem for what seemed like hours. I felt like I was twelve years old again, sitting in class, not allowed to leave for lunch until I explained to the teacher the answer behind the writing.
I was dumbfounded. I had no idea what this poem meant or where he was going. Was the moon a metaphor? Was he talking about himself, or a lover? How does the chicken come into play? Maybe it wasn’t a chicken, it could’ve been a rat or something, I don’t remember the poem clearly and I never sat down afterwards to try again and interpret it.
As I sat there, failing to figure out what Ronsard was trying to tell me in his obscure way, I realized that—maybe I couldn’t understand it because my brain wasn’t wired to understand it. I was obviously just trying to find an excuse for my incompetence, but there is a research book that talks about this idea. It’s called The Shallows, by Nicholas Carr (affiliate link). He talks about the way technology physically changes the makeup of our brains.
I thought about this book and its possible implications on why I couldn’t understand this poem. Maybe my brain just wasn’t equipped to deal with his metaphor and symbol use because—in today’s world—no one tries to mask what they preach online. They just tell you as plainly and directly as they can. After all, there’s not space for metaphor when the attention span of online readers lasts only as long as a tweet, (present company excluded, of course). Maybe we modern day humans have to work extra hard mentally in order to grasp the deep allusions and between the line thinking that is the hallmark of writers who lived centuries before us.
Or maybe I just need to try harder to become a better reader of good literature. Who knows?
Either way, this idea dawned on me while sitting there staring at that book of poetry. I don’t know what came over me after that. Actually, yes I do. It was my muse—throwing me into a chokehold right as the fight starts. Instead of denying me any ideas and thoughts, though, he was forcing them onto me—jarring me in the head with them the way a fighter connects a jab.
If only muses were always that direct and forthcoming with inspiration, amiright?
A few minutes later, “Death in the Morning” was finished and my phone was buzzing, telling me to put my brain away and put my shoes on, because it was time to start my day and face the noise of the world.