Thursday, October 14, 2010

writing as shoplifting

My mother was an avid shoplifter. She is Bipolar and prone to extreme behaviors, to put it mildly (I'll tell you about visiting murderers in prison in another entry). I've always thought of her as a combination of Auntie Mame and Mommy Dearest. But, really, pick your metaphor. We are borrowers, sponges, knitters together of many pieces, or thieves (but never plagiarists) in the night, synthesizing our experiences into art. Every book we read, play we see, every nasty break-up and passionate beginning, every odd dream, sensory memory, and cloud we watch can find its way directly or abstractly into what we write. Randomness is being more intentionally open to this, to steal words and images and to create something original, what the Dadaists call collage.

My mother was certainly a random shoplifter. She stole dog beds, mini-bikes, make-up, and clothes, but only from the corporately owned stores. A socialist at heart, she would never "steal from the little guys." Now, at ninety, still witty and bright, she is kept from her crimes by my brothers, and her wheelchair. I wouldn't be a writer without her.


  1. Or we can be like raccoons, finding shiny bits and stowing them away in our word-hoard. Or a little hole in an oak would work too.

    I do like to steal from other writers -- not sentences, of course, but the framework of stories, the way they set up a scene -- scaffolding stuff. I should do it more often.

    I'm glad your mom struck a blow for the little guy in her own devious way!

  2. I suppose wordlifting is encouraged and won't get us into trouble, but there are an awful lot of words. Changing one word can really change the meaning too. And over time this could make a huge difference.

    Some old Fairy Tales used to have Mary, the "mother of God" arrive and hand out magical gifts to solve everyone's problems. Perrault, of course, changed this to "fairy godmother" to get rid of the religious imagry. Imagine what Disney movies would be like with Mary the mother of God showing up instead of a godmother with wings. :) And of course Disneyland would be a bit different too...