I needed atmosphere, so I grabbed my rough draft and I went to the zoo. I had the day off and seeing as how it was Independence Day I suppose I should have worn red, white and blue. But I couldn't find anything and I was anxious to get out the door, so I threw on my Social Aid and Pleasure Club T-shirt and hopped in the car.
Writing in the front yard worked so well the other day that I figured surrounding myself with wildlife would have the same effect, if not better. AND IT WAS. Just so you know, if you're writing a scifi/fantasy novel about a locksmith who opens the door to a different world, and part of that world is a carnivorous forest, the zoo makes for a better feel than a coffee shop. I spent about the first two hours walking around taking notes on the way animals moved, the smells, details about them written on signs, things I've never noticed like the way flamingos knees bend in the opposite direction of ours when they walk, and notes on ferns and other plant life around the them. Then I sat at a bench outside of the Primate Exhibit and wrote for two solid, uninterrupted hours, with all of the smells and sounds that I needed. Peacock cries and howler monkeys, and cicadas that sing in chorus, somehow making the heat hotter. I took pictures of vines and rocks that I want in my forest, and signs with phrases that spoke to me, like "vanishing animal" and "coin vortex."
For some reason "Sea Lion Pool," struck me as particularly beautiful. Those three words have nothing to do with each other when you take them apart, and all three of them have their own power. Sea - one of the largest bodies of water on the planet, lion - one of the most powerful animals on the planet, and pool - a rejuvenating space that (to me) suggests fun and relaxation. The three together is dynamic. I explained this to my coworker James this morning and he raised an eyebrow at me.
"It's possible," I said, really thinking about it. "That there are still remnants of illegal drugs stored in my spinal chord that, when released, make terms like 'sea lion pool' tear-jerkingly beautiful."
"I'm crying for you, Gen," he said.
But he did admit that "coin vortex" and "vanishing animal" were neat terms. He wouldn't have taken pictures of them though. I noticed that some of the other zoo patrons were giving me strange looks when I took pictures of signs or when I scribbled in my notebook. But they didn't ask about it so I didn't bother to tell them that I'm writing a scifi/fantsy novel that involves a carnivorous forest and that I noticed in doing so that the zoo smells just like the French Quarter, minus the booze. People write there, so why shouldn't I write at the zoo?
I'm writing everywhere lately. It all comes out at work or while I'm driving or doing the dishes. This is especially bad when I'm at work. The other day I had the impulse to answer the phone in Japanese and I don't even speak it. I just wanted to play with new sounds.
Speaking of strings of words and sounds, there was a quote etched in the rock by the sea lion pool that I've never noticed before. It's by the poet Robinson Jeffers, who was possibly tripped out by the term "Sea Lion Pool" when he wrote, “As for us we must uncenter our minds from ourselves; We must unhmanize our views a little, and become confident As the rock and ocean that we were made from.”
I'm a little nervous to finish this book and have people say, "You had a writing frenzy and did all of that research for...THIS?" Well, yes. But I don't think this is just a phase. I will write like this until I'm just the memory of an animal and between now and then I foresee a whole lot of stories. With luck, not all of them will draw funny looks, but I suppose even if they do I'll still keep writing them, just like how I'll still keep snapping pictures of word strings and vines.
"I think that one's eyes are hurt," a guy said by the Sea Lion Pool, pointing to one who's eyes were closed.
But I didn't think so. It was swimming with the other one who also had her eyes closed, not squinting them shut in pain, but with a soft face. My note says about them, "Both sea lions swim in slow circles with their eyes closed like they're in love." That's what my mind is like all the time now, not in love with a person but with all of these sounds. I close my eyes, say "Vanishing Animal" to myself and swim.