Holmes Was Wearing a Wig
August 23, 2011 § 6 Comments
Last March, while typing out stage directions for the local children’s drama club’s performance, instead of typing every word that was supposed to be spoken by each student actor along with directions (i.e., “stand up abruptly and shout ‘By George, Holmes, that’s brilliant, how did you know the Baroness was wearing a wig?’ “) , as a shortcut I just typed the first few words plus the last few words of each person’s lines, followed by the stage directions in italics, like this:
“By George, Holmes…was wearing a wig!” (stands up abruptly, shouting).
Before I get to the point of this post, I should mention that my involvement in theater is merely as an amateur backstage supporter, certainly not as an expert. I am ignorant of the workings of professional theater, but I am guessing that something like this kind of shortcut I was trying out is standard procedure. I am actually a visual artist who also likes to write, which is maybe why I noticed that something interesting was happening as I was writing these shortcut sentences made of the first few words plus the last few words of the actors’ lines.
It was late, I was tired, I was about to go to bed when I noticed that this shortcut was generating some odd sentences, such as, “Now, where were…our procedures,” “Thank you,…extreme caution,” and “I agree with…Earth.” I thought the collection of these odd sentences could be the basis of a new play, story or poem. (Like maybe Mr. X. Treme Caution hands the main character a list of procedures for extracting something from the Earth’s core, but the Earth protests, and the female lead cries out, “I agree with Earth!” and launches into a Portia-like plea for mercy…or something.)
I went to bed, but couldn’t stop thinking about the way these new lines had been formed. So I got up again, grabbed a book from the bookshelf and flipped to random pages, choosing the beginning of a sentence, then choosing the end of another sentence, to see what I could create. Sometimes I chose a middle from a third sentence. What I ended up with wasn’t always a complete sentence itself, but that was okay, because I could always combine these new phrases to make them into even more sentences. Sometimes I just chose single words and strung them together in a way that I liked. I came up with things like:
They gave me verses from a poem
Paper thread sewn into the shape of a bean
Daily immersion with traveling accordion
Helpful silver pyramids
A rummage sale delighted the walnut artists
A tug-of-war with shifting points of mechanical movement
And so forth. Each of these lines sparked questions: Who are the “they” that gave me verses? Why would anyone use paper thread? Will an accordion still play if it gets wet? How much silver polish do you need for pyramids? What could I make out of walnuts?
(I believe people who create altered books sometimes do something very similar to the activity I just described, by painting out all the words on a page except for those that create a phrase of interest.)
Anyway, I was fascinated by these new strings of words and the questions they generated. Over the next few months, I made pages and pages more of these odd writings. Eventually I saw that, because I was subconsciously drawn to the same subjects over and over, I was coming up with groups of lines that formed themselves into paragraphs. They became poems, proverbs, and strange guided meditations. They are still evolving, and I secretly want to see them become stories, artist’s books, epic poems, novels, animations…At the very least, they have already inspired some of my paintings, which I’ll post here as soon as they are photographed.
Meanwhile, think about this: what unique worlds would you create if you sat down one evening with some books, pencil and paper, and started combining found words and phrases in ways that appealed to you? If you create something you want to share, I’d love to read it.