The most important week of the year February 25 - March 3, 2018

Neil Gaiman tells us to: "Read. Read anything. Read the things they say are good for you, and the things they claim are junk. You'll find what you need to find. Just read."

Please join readers everywhere in celebrating this most important week of the year.

Stolen any good lines lately?

Every so often I read something I’ve written and think, “This is quite good.” It’s an infrequent occurrence and my second thought usually is, “I wonder where I found that?”

When you read enough, certain phrases and images will embed themselves to the point where they become yours.

In the liner notes of the album Bringing It All Back Home, Bob Dylan wrote, “the Great books've been written. / the Great sayings have all been said” 

Along the same lines, French writer André Gide said, “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”

Those messages are the same—writers are free of trying to be original. They can and should embrace influence instead trying to insulate themselves from it. (Austin Kleon, paraphrased).

When I wrote the flash fiction short story Choosing Destiny a few weeks ago, I thought I was stealing an idea from a meditation exercise I’d done a few years before. I didn’t know that I was also stealing from Neil Gaiman’s book American Gods.

My short story told of a young man walking down a corridor of doors, trying to pick the one behind which he would spend eternity. This was taken from a meditation practise of imagining a row of doors. Open one and you’re on the edge of a vast sea.

Coincidentally I was reading American Gods at the time of that particular flash fiction challenge. But I was only half-way through the book. Imagine my surprise when I later read this passage where the character Shadow is dead:

“I want to rest now,” said Shadow. “That’s what I want. I want nothing. No heaven, no hell, no anything. Just let it end.”

“You’re certain?” asked Thoth.

“Yes,” said Shadow.

Mr. Jacquel opened the last door for Shadow, and behind that door was nothing. Not darkness. Not even oblivion. Only nothing.

Shadow accepted it, completely and without reservation, and he walked through the door into nothing with a strange fierce joy.

I couldn’t (wouldn’t!) set out to plagiarize anything as blatantly it may appear in comparing my fragment of fiction to that excerpt. But independently from Gaiman’s fabulous story, I stole from his work. In advance of reading it.

Have you ever written something, only to find someone else has said the same thing, used an identical theme, or chosen your title for their book before yours got to press? Did you accept it as what Carl Jung calls synchronicity or did it seem more calculated than that?


Picture from Wikimedia Commons: The Steal by Dawn Nuczek

Got a free minute?

Recently I found this tool that shows how much time you’ve wasted on Facebook. Did I log in and shake my head over the result? Not a chance. I took the-ignorance-is-bliss approach and gave it a wide berth. As I will do if any such tools pop up for other social media.

The test made me think of other activities that I don’t want a cumulative time record for:

  • looking for recycling symbols on packaging

  • waiting in voice queues to speak to the next available representative

  • learning the latest version of software just when I’ve nailed the old one

  • looking for things that aren’t where they should be

  • trying to make shoddy merchandise function so I won’t have to return it

  • returning shoddy merchandise to stores

  • searching for a sales assistant who knows less about a store’s products than I do

  • standing in a room, wondering what I came in for, and feeling convinced if I just stand there another minute, I will remember

  • going back to that room five minutes later because I finally remembered what I wanted

  • saving recipes that will never be made

Browsing websites is a better way to spend time than anything on that list. It connects me to the world and opens the portal to daydreaming. Neil Gaiman said, “As an author, I’ve never forgotten how to daydream.” I hope I don’t either. It’s an essential springboard to making stuff up.

Now the University of Pennsylvania recognizes that unfocused internet surfing may be productive time. “'[…] distraction, multi-tasking, and aimless drifting' might prove as creatively fertile as automatic writing was for the Surrealist writers,” according to Professor (and MoMA Poet Laureate) Kenneth Goldsmith.

Are you going to click on the link above and see how much time you’ve wasted on Facebook? Or do you realize that actually it’s time invested, not squandered? How many opportunities would you have missed if you hadn’t taken time to be part of the worldwide web and all it has to offer?


Photo from Wikimedia Commons: Salvador Dali, Profile of Time in Arkady Wroclawskie Shopping Centre by Julio.