Creative Juices, On The Rocks Please

By Elaina Taylor

~Oh but they’re so spaced out, ba-ba-ba-Bennie and the Jeetttsss
Oh but they’re weird and they’re wonderful
But Bennie she’s-a really keeennn~

“Elaina, what on earth are you doing?”

I pause my singing, twist my head. My door, which was formerly ajar, has now been pushed fully open to reveal a very baffled roommate. I just laugh, surveying the mess strewn around me on my bed, the product of handing my inner five-year-old paper and scissors and setting it free.

“I’m searching for creative inspiration!”

It’s Sunday night and my essay for my creative nonfiction class is due tomorrow, yet I am stuck, firmly wedged between my perfectionist tendencies and writer’s block. Tantalizing ideas always dart around in my head and then dissipate like morning mist when the time comes to translate them to paper. I’ve sat at this computer for a whole hour now, and that eureka moment has eluded me thus far. After a few more mind-numbingly-frustrating minutes, I begin actively searching elsewhere for inspiration.

~ • ~

Occasionally this means sifting through my stockpile of inspiration, my imagination compilation; I constantly collect quotes, little snippets of information, random facts – harbored in the notes section on my iPhone, set adrift on seas of sticky notes, or scribbled on whatever writing surface was closest at the time.

These tidbits always tend to spark something in my brain, even if they’ll never get used, they always get me thinking, questioning, curious. Did you know that our sense of smell is most closely linked to memory? Oh, would I love to peek into your brain after you read this sentence to discover what first popped up in your thoughts. Lobsters, yes, lobsters the culinary delicacy, can live to be over a hundred. Food for thought, quite literally. Thanks to technology, with an electronic eye and an implant, a man who previously viewed the world in grayscale due to an extreme form of colorblindness can hear color. One of the more captivating TED talks for sure – “I Listen to Color” by Neil Harbisson.

~ • ~

Most often, I turn to music in search of creative stimulus. My poetry professor says that the creative process to craft one art form is the same for all other artistic compositions, and I love seeking out ingenuity through other mediums of creation. As one who sings constantly, in music I find both solace and a challenge. There’s just something about the freedom, joy and ease I feel when singing that allows my cramped brain to loosen up and finally let the thoughts that had been percolating there to flow unhindered onto the page. And more often than not, this singing is accompanied by none other than dancing, usually done with complete abandon in the comfort of my own room. (It’s right around this point that my brain gets so embarrassed by the actions of its physical vessel that it will ship over the necessary language just to get me out of the dance funk I’m shimmying around in.)

~ • ~

But when that doesn’t work, I let myself get swept up in another world – that of the human experience. Little else captivates the human brain like stories, which explains why, for as long as I can remember, stories have always enthralled me. The medium through which the story is expressed matters little; I always get lost in the world of books, films, and TV shows. As a kid, I would constantly get in trouble for reading in class when I wasn’t supposed to be. But more than that, I love hearing about people’s lives, their interests, their experiences, what makes them unique. Perhaps that is why inevitably, at least once throughout my day, I check for new posts on the Humans of New York Facebook page. A blog created by photographer Brandon Stanton, he travels around NYC, and occasionally other countries, taking photographs and collecting quotes from his subjects along the way. For me, the breathtaking result is not only a daily dose of perspective, it’s a reminder that these short interviews barely skim the surface, and that these amazing human beings have so many more stories to tell.

So I ask you: What mesmerizes your imagination? How do you stay creative? What inspires you?

When the Muses Don’t Answer

If I had a dollar for every empty-worded late night; every frantic cup of watery coffee; every annoyed backspace on a keyboard, I wouldn’t be worrying incessantly about my future as a debt victim.

I’m beginning to believe that anything ever created is either the result of a moment of absolute brilliance, or lifetimes of painstaking work. Whoever invented the wheel was most likely struck with sudden insight, or spent fifty years shredding their soul for some vague concept of movement.

Words are beauty—representations of thoughts and feelings that may otherwise go unacknowledged, even by the self. These little blooms of ideas sometimes become lost, trapped inside heads and ink stains. In those moments (days) when I lose language and words hide, I struggle to complete sentences.

Feeling like a mother who has lost control of her children, I beg. I plead, I bargain, I try everything short of selling my dignity to get them to behave. I promise cookies for the good words who come from their deep hiding places. I play music that usually charms punctuation and syntax to twirl from my fingertips.

When sounds of The Yeah Yeah Yeahs and Wu-Tang can’t persuade the words, I go for a walk. Sometimes mischievous words need time alone to cool off and come to their senses. If exercise and fresh oxygen don’t rejuvenate the words, sleep may be necessary. An overworked word can’t think straight, so yawning and grumpy, I rest for a bit and let the words settle down.

Returning to my laptop, I keep an open notebook and pen ready. When my fingers produce nothing on a keyboard, my hands feel embarrassed, and make up for a lack of words with scribbles and doodles. Often, the subconscious gliding of ink on paper calls forth the muscle memory of creation—oh, so this is how life is made.

Nonsensical swirls become words. Unrelated, irrelevant, they lead to more words. Sentences, some almost-thoughts. Feeling hypnotized, I let the words use me to breathe. After a moment, when my eyes catch the computer screen, the dread feels less dreadful. I use the energy felt during nonsense to propel into my original mission. With my words finally willing to cooperate, I play the keyboard like a piano. The lovely little clatterings sound like symphonies in the wake of uninspired silence.

Even if I don’t feel satisfied with the finished product, I am relieved to get the words out. Your entire wellbeing can be compromised if creativity is kept inside for too long. There should be clinics specifically for those suffering from suppressed creativity—finger painting, glitter, notebooks and good pens. If you try to rush the creating process, more than just the final product suffers.

Eyes That’ll Make You Cry

It was Halloween weekend of 2007, and I had plans to play my favorite childhood game. Ding Dong DITCH! Otherwise known as DDD by the cooler 12 year olds, is a complex game in which the premise calls for one individual to ring the doorbell of a clueless neighbor and flee the scene before being discovered. The uncontrollable factors of extra adult supervision and surplus of witnesses made this occasion the Super Bowl of DDD. However, I was determined to keep my title as the best darn ditcher in all of West Point Middle School.

The first target of the night was Mr. Harris, our technology teacher who loved to assign homework on weekends and had an unwavering disdain for fun. Mr. Harris’s house was considerably large for an unmarried man and contained a driveway that seemed of equal size to an airport runway. It stood in isolation from the rest of the houses on the street and was located directly across from a cornfield.

As protocol dictated, my friends hid in the bushes as I walked up to the porch and proceeded to ring the doorbell. On the front door mat there was a bowl full of candy with a note that read “Please Take One.” I reached down and took 4 pieces because I’m just that dude. Just as my finger touched the bell, car lights appeared at the start of the driveway.

CODE RED, CODE RED! The car was quickly approaching and I needed to get out of there. I frantically hopped off the porch and dashed into the cornfield. Rookie Mistake. As I ran deeper and deeper into the field, I began to lose sense of direction. I could still vaguely see the car lights but I couldn’t quite tell how far I was from the house.

I figured the best idea would be to just wait it out. I stood peeping through the corn for about five minutes but the car lights were still on. Then it happened; I saw the first set of glowing eyes. Then two more appeared and another two until I was completely surrounded by a sea of glowing eyes. The eyes began to move closer as I could hear footsteps nearing.

I whispered out in a nervous tone, “Yo guys this isn’t funny man!” No response.

The eyes kept moving forward. “Seriously yall, stop it! You are going to get us caught.” No response.

“Mr. Harris is that you?” Silence.

At that point I had done enough inquiry and decided it was time to get out of there. I started to run as fast as I could because this black kid was not dying first in this scary movie. I ran for what seemed like miles as the eyes continued to follow me, but I soon came to an unclimbable fence. Chest heaving, I paused. Took a breath. I decided to turn and face whatever multi-eyed creature was following me.  I was scared out of my pants but I was ready to fight my way out of whatever or whoever was after me.

As the eyes got closer and closer, I clenched my fists and stationed my feet. The eyes got as close as they were going to get and came to halt. I was finally able to see what creature I was running from. There it stood, right in front of me. The biggest gosh darn Bambi-looking deer I have ever seen in my entire life.

Are Those Footsteps?

By Elaina Taylor

Weak moonlight filters in through the slits in the window blinds, dappling the little girl’s bed. Eyes stretched wide against the near darkness, covers wrapped protectively around her small body, she tenses at every sound that reaches her ears. A fierce wind raging outside provokes the old house to complain and moan around her, causing her to shiver with fear. It’s October, and the terrifying trailers for horror movies inhabit the TV channels. It doesn’t take much to give her nightmares and keep her awake at night scared to fall asleep, and the trailer she accidentally watched today is no exception.

Every time she closes her eyes, the fear overwhelms her so she keeps them open. But the problem is, if she strains her eyes and ears too much, the two senses start to play tricks on her, and her imagination begins to run wild.

Monsters aren’t real, she tells herself. Those aren’t footsteps you hear, it’s just the house creaking. Those aren’t footsteps, but wait…those sound like footsteps.

Trying to creep around on the staircase is impossible; nearly every step anyone takes will result in a loud protest from the stairs, so there’s almost no way to walk undetected. And the girl can definitely hear the rhythmic groans coming from the stairs as someone, or something, advances. The girl holds her breath to make sure she isn’t imagining things, but that only makes the pounding in her heart louder. Could it be Mom or Dad? No, they went to bed forever ago, so that can’t be them.

As the footfalls get louder and closer, the little girl whimpers and reaches out to grab her favorite stuffed animal and pulls it close. My lion will protect me, she thinks. She fixes her eyes on the gap in the door. There’s a momentary pause as whoever it is reaches the landing, then continues down the hallway. Slowly, the sounds get closer.

Now with the footsteps she can hear heavy breathing, the kind a large person or animal would make. Certain it’s almost at her door, she closes her eyelids until they’re just barely open, deciding she’ll pretend to be asleep until she figures out who or what is creeping around the house.

A dark, clawed shape appears at the edge of the door, curls around it, and then slowly begins to open it. Creeeeeeeaaaakkk. A hulking figure, barely visible in the dark, now stands at the entrance to the girl’s room. It takes one step. Then another. Then another. The creature moves closer, and the little girl wants to scream but all sound is caught in her throat and she can’t get it out. It’s now right next to her bed, and just as the little girl is about to faint from fear or scream until her lungs give out, the creature suddenly stands erect and howls to the moon, “Scooby Dooby Doooooo!”

There’s a momentary pause.

“Dad!” my sister and I exclaim indignantly, “That’s not a spooky story, that doesn’t count!” He laughs, and then begins another story, only to end it again on, “Scooby Dooby Doooooo!”

A Million Little Inches of Evil

An anxious child fearing embarrassment, loud noises and scary faces internally died most severely when confronted with one particular furry creature. Bizarre muscle movements, infinite legs, no defining face—the Caterpillar. Little Natalie became paralyzed with disgust and dread when she happened upon these fuzzy life-ruiners in gardens, on trees near her swing, hanging lazily from half-devoured leaves. Continue reading A Million Little Inches of Evil

The Escalator Monster

“If you don’t get off fast enough, it’ll pull you in and eat you!”

My older sister doesn’t remember telling me this, but I sure do. In a two-floor mall in Virginia, a rare sight for our family, I saw my first escalator. When you tell your eight(ish)-year-old brother about a creature that lives under a mode of transportation, it’s a sure fire way to get him to fear it for the rest of his life.  Continue reading The Escalator Monster

To The Freshman I Used To Be…

September 28, 2015

Dear Freshman Elaina,

Look at you, all grown up and ready to take on college life! I’m so happy and proud you’ve come this far, and I’m excited for all that you’ll discover in the coming years. But before you get ahead of yourself, I’ll let you in on a little secret. I, the author of this letter, am you, now a junior at JMU, writing back in time to give you the advice and guidance you’ll so desperately need during freshman year. It won’t be able to change your path, but it may make freshman year a little easier on you.

First off, honey you’re an adult now – learn to dress like one. Go out and find some nice business casual clothes that look both cute and professional. I know you don’t like to splurge, but this is the one occasion you won’t regret having done so. Make an effort to look at least halfway decent for your classes, too.

Learn to let go babe. Make peace with the fact that sometimes friendships pass like the seasons. People will be in your life for a reason, but don’t count on them always staying there; where one friendship slowly withers another will blossom in its place. And this ties into …

Learn to recognize your own self-worth. If people don’t make time for you, then don’t make time for them. I understand that this bit of advice will feel especially impossible, but trust me, you will love yourself more for understanding you are worth people making time for.

Don’t shy away so much from meeting new people. Own your awkwardness. Wear it like a badge, girl. Just because you feel anxious as a spooked hedgehog in a room full of new people doesn’t mean you shouldn’t make an effort to meet others. Your inadvertent networking will pay off in time.

Call your parents, and especially your little sister. I know you’ve never been good at staying in touch with anyone, but your sister really needs you. Freshman year of high school for her will be just as hard as freshman year of college for you.

Take time to write and don’t be a perfectionist. You love jotting down random ideas that come into your head until you have oceans of sticky notes, but you never do anything with them. Write that story you’ve been visualizing, but are too afraid won’t be good enough. While you’re not good at reading people, that doesn’t mean you can’t write a convincing and entrancing story.

Just know that I made the journey too, and now I’m happier than I’ve ever been with some great friends, roommates, and coworkers by my side. You have a hard year ahead of you, but you will grow exponentially as a result of your freshman year experiences. Embrace the tears as equally as you do the laughs, and be strong. Have fun and just be yourself, and the rest will follow.

Love you girl,

Elaina (your future self)

The Heart and Soul of James Madison University


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