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.

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§ 6 Responses to Holmes Was Wearing a Wig

  • Glynn says:

    Not only our oatcakes watch their intake.
    Great Paterson’s taste protective coating.
    The gate closes on magnetised metal.

    I didn’t have a book within reach, so I combined an oatcake packet with an old boarding pass and a CD cover. It’s a fun technique. How many did you look at until they started to form groups?

  • I enjoyed reading your lines; thank you for sending them. I wonder if taste-protective coatings preserve the flavor of something, or block out the taste?

    It is fun, I think because it is only partially (not totally) random. You’re limited a bit by the source material you are looking at, which is a good thing because it gives you a place to start, but the words you select and the ways you arrange them are completely under your control, plus you can always reach for a new book/oatcake cover whenever you want to.

    After 2 or 3 evenings’ worth of writing sentences and sentence fragments (a subject here, a predicate there, some prepositional phrases, etc.) I started seeing ways to group them. I realized I was drawn to certain subjects (like “roots” and “book”), so I ended up with lots of sentences about those things.

  • Sig Paulson says:

    Margo,
    I love it! In my songwriting I do something similar. I wrote a song called “This Town”. I just walked and/or drove around town and wrote down things I saw and then strung them together. Of course I manipulated it quite a bit to rhyme and fit the meter but the mental pictures are pretty random. You can see a new you tube of it by typing in “Salem Songwriters Sessions, or Sig Paulson This Town” I will use this technique to see what themes and such I can stir up for myself. Check out Rob Brezney’s “Free Will” astrology on line. He has a way of writing sometimes that is very visually oriented… creating a lot of pictures in your head with odd, random phrasing. I’ll be checking in to read more and will post some of mine after I try this.
    Sig

  • This reminds me of something I did in college when I had to get up and give a humorous speech as a requirement for speech class. I and my friends sat down and started saying nonsense words to each other and laughing. But when I got up and recited a string of unrelated words what seemed so funny with friends didn’t seem so to the teacher!
    I love poetry too and find all this entertaining and inspiring. Can’t wait to see your paintings!!!!
    Joyce

  • Thanks, Joyce…sounds like one of those embarrassing moments that nevertheless makes a good story later! I once did a painting with Dudley Doright and some geishas in it, and the prof. was aghast that I would do anything remotely humorous, because art is serious, etc. etc. It took me decades before I could paint anything remotely funny after that.

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