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The write obsession (09/16/2007)
By Janet Lewis Burns

Guess what! Writers are weird! Benjamin Franklin wrote while in a bathtub, inspired by a luxurious, warm soaking. There were those who have indulged in the use of opium or alcohol to trigger ideas. (Are those "booze clues"?)

One J.M. Turner, a painter, liked to go sailing during violent storms to experience the tumult of the sea for creative arousal. (Thar she blows!) "The poet Schiller used to keep rotten apples under the lid of his desk and inhale their pungent bouquet when he needed to find the right word." (Something's rotten in Denmark!) Diane Ackerman wrote about it in her National Bestseller "A Natural History of the Senses."

"T.S. Eliot preferred writing when he had a head cold," says Ackerman. "The rustling of his head, as if full of petticoats, shattered the usual logical links between things and allowed his mind to roam." (A mind has a mind of its own!) "Dame Edith Sitwell used to lie in an open coffin for awhile before she began her day's writing."

I first became familiar with "synesthesia" as I read Ackerman's sensual and spellbinding book. Synesthesia an uncommon perception when the stimulation of one sense stimulates another. ""¦a sound can be translated through a perfume and a perfume through vision." To be so "afflicted" with this oddity can be a writer's utopia! Ackerman reports that those who experience intense synesthesia naturally, number one in every 500,000. The mind isn't stranded in the brain; through our senses, as well, can come inspiration and self-arousal. (Take the long way home!)

While resting in my recliner on a steamy, lazy afternoon, in a shadow of the brilliant sun, the rhythm and momentum of our pendulum wall clock's ticking turned relaxation into a dream state. My transport to another place and time was unexpected. There hung the coo-coo clock out on the farm - I could reach out and touch its small door. Aunt Alma let me pull the brass chains to rewind it.

I had drifted back to the Wollin homestead, a blond and lanky child. A balmy breeze lifted sheer curtains from open living room windows, where I dozed in their well-preserved, granny rocking chair. The putrid odor of a cow yard mingling with a poignant clover field and country dust jarred me back from a freeze frame. Straining to hang onto it, I was left with nostalgic longing.

When I hear what sounds like roller-skating music, a lively song played on an organ, wafting through the place I happen to be at the time, melancholy sets in. I have images of young

and energetic faces peering out through the mesmerizing clatter of metal wheels whizzing around and around a shiny wood floor. (Play it again, Sam!)

An elderly lady gets goose bumps at the sight of the American flag and smells mothballs. The widower strolls along a forest path in the throes of autumn to remember vividly his late wife's face. Someone smells death every time he sees red geraniums. A child can't explain why he freezes with fear and hears himself sobbing every time he sees a clown in costume.

It's a unique experience, though sometimes unsettling, to be returned to this indulgent latitude, a brief, released freedom of memories otherwise locked away, drained of color, washed clean of smell, erased of fingerprints and silenced by time"¦except in those mysterious flashbacks. Ignite your own fire! Record the sensations!

Thoreau's take on writers is insightful: "The poet is he that hath fat enough, like bears and marmots, to suck his own claws all winter. He hibernates in this world, and feeds on his own marrow."

Someone else said, "We drink from our own wells." The deep vessel of life's experiences stirs with abundance"¦the greater the volume, the more plenteous the wisdom that overflows.

Janet Burns is lifelong resident of Lewiston. She can be reached at patandjanburns@embarqmail.com. 


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