A Matter of Ritual

Who knew that Jack Kerouac and I had so much in common?

Actually, we have two things in common that I know of -- which may not qualify as "so much," but it's at least a start.

Turns out that Mr. Kerouac died in the same hospital where I was born, albeit five years later. That's kinda weird and gruesome, actually, but interesting, at least to me.

And, it seems that we have the same ritual in regards to sitting down and starting to write. We both light a candle.

Granted, I doubt that his was exactly like mine -- currently, I'm burning Illuminations Tea & Honey jar candle . I'm thinking that wouldn't have been Mr. Kerouac's style. But still.

I gleaned this little candle tidbit from a rather interesting writing tool I picked up in a hipcoolgroovy independent book store I ran across in Key West. The Observation Deck by Naomi Epel is a jump start idea box for writers. A collection of suggestions to help get the creative juices marinating is paired with a book of application anecdotes from successful writers.

The box had been sitting on my dining room table (which is really, at the moment, the junk accumulation table) since I'd returned from the cruise. Just hanging out, giving me the inanimate stink-eye every time I walked by and ignored it. Seemingly saying "Come on. I dare you. Open me up and give me a whirl."

So I did.

I pulled my first card. Which said "observe a ritual." And after pondering this for a while -- long enough to make me feel thoughtful but not so long as to permanently deepen the furrows between my brows -- I turned to the companion book. Which is where I learned about Jack Kerouac and his candle.

I didn't really realize it until now, but I do have some rituals in which I engage when I sit down to write. Lighting the candle is one. Taking off my shoes is another. Under my desk there is a huge pile of shoes. A couple of pairs of socks. And a lone flip-flop, its partner flung to parts unknown. I also take off my jewelry -- watch, rings, earrings. My morning dressing routine more often than not ends here in the office, where I put on the day's adornment and footwear. And sometimes even my bra -- I've been known to whip it off too and hang it on the corner of the file cabinet.

I light my candle. My sense of smell is finely tuned -- I have many memories that are triggered just by a certain scent in the air. And I turn on some music. That is perhaps the most important pre-writing ritual I have. I am one of those weird people who has to have background noise in her life -- almost at all times. Something needs to be playing in the background -- else I go slightly mad. I had to study with the TV or radio on in college, which, when I had roommates, could become a bit of a bone of contention. Couldn't do libraries for long periods of time unless I had my Walkman available. Back in the early '80s, it was not uncommon to find me, cross-legged at our coffee table, working on a project with MTV as company.

I fall asleep with the TV on (after setting the sleep timer); I have my iPod handy at all times; the radio is always on in the car. I'm not sure why I prefer to function this way -- part of it stems from living alone for so long. In the 10 years between college and when I got married, I lived alone. The noise was my companion -- it helped to fill the empty spaces. And, strangely enough, it's also comforting to me. My mind never turns off -- I fall asleep thinking and wake up thinking. No blank spaces or empty pauses. The background noise gives me something to focus on other than my own thoughts. Which, believe me, is a very good thing.

When I write, though, I have to have music that's not a distraction -- songs that I know and love and immediately sing along to aren't conducive to my creative process. Jazz, classical or anything from Putumayo is perfect when I'm putting words to virtual paper. In fact, I've got Brazilian Lounge crooning in my ears right this very minute. I have no idea what any of the lyrics are saying (anyone know Portuguese?) but the beat is soothing and mellow and exactly what the muse ordered.

So. For someone who initially assumed she wasn't a chick of ritual, I guess I fooled myself.

Go figure.

1 comment:

jason said...

A candle? I like that.

I wonder if Kerouac took off his earrings first too? :)