Thursday, January 3, 2008

Where Ideas Come From

This is a cautionary tale. Turn away now if you're squeamish.

Do you have one of those travel coffee mugs with a screw-on lid? I do, and I fill it as soon as I get up, with coffee and chocolate milk, and I drink my daily dose on and off for an hour or two. But with that dairy product in there, I don't like to leave the dregs sitting around too long. I wash the mug and the lid out with hot soapy water. I rinse and rinse until it's clean. Or so I thought.

I wiped the inner lip with a paper towel yesterday, because it looked as if some dried chocolate milk had gathered there. A bit of the towel slid under the inner ledge. It came back smudged. I crooked my finger, still covered with the paper towel, under the lip and circled it round. There was actually a deep crevice under there and---turn away now!----my finger came back covered with a half inch of sludge. Yeeech!

How could that have happened? How could I have been drinking toxic waste for some time now and not known? What kind of evil designer puts a hidden ledge into a coffee mug and then sleeps soundly at night?

I'm sitting here, trying to think how coffee sludge can be inspirational. How it could be a metaphor for all the gunk in our heads/hearts that we don't even know is slowing up our writing processes. But---and maybe this is the toxifying effect of drinking sludge for untold weeks now---I can't think of a thing that would make this a worthwhile lesson.

Sometimes, sludge is just sludge. Except that perhaps...and here's where I love being a writer...I'm already thinking that if I need a character to have an interesting occupation in one of my books, travel coffee mug designer wouldn't be too bad. Think of all the work generated by trying to make an attractive mug that will fit comfortably in multiple sizes of cupholders, that won't tip over, that will keep coffee hot all morning, that will appeal to those who walk and those who drive and those who take trains. Think of the conversations this designer mom/dad could have with main character as she/he brings home various test models. It's just the perfect bit of stage business that allows a writer to reveal character while moving the storyline along.

I love my own brain. I really do. It takes sludge and makes an idea out of it. Once upon a time, there was a girl who believed...


  1. Eeeew!
    WHY do the coffee mug people DO THAT!? I have that problem, too, and I'm a little obsessive/compulsive about keeping travel mugs and water bottles schmutz free. UGH, it's disgusting to find out sometimes I've missed something!!!

    And Sara dearheart, ONLY YOU could figure out something cool about it. I think I love your brain, too. :)

  2. See, that "Once Upon a Time..." worked! I think whenever I am having a particularly bad day or things are just going wrong for me, I ask myself, "where can this help me in my writing?" I'm glad to not be the only one out there turning mishaps (gross as they may be) into lightbulbs over the head.

    I've seen disgusting gunk in sippy cups - so I have a great visual as to what you are talking about! Eeewwwww...gag!

  3. I happen to think that sludge can be good for you. What about wine? Isn't that basically grape sludge that has sat around for a long time?

  4. My mug when I was a student was the coffee mug of Dorian Gray. I figured that since only I drank from it, and it stayed in my room, I didn't have to wash it. So the interior got progressively darker and darker, but I forgot what colour it originally was. At the end of three terms I took it home, and it 'got washed up' as students' things are... and when I saw the true pale beige of that mug's insides, I had to wonder about the colour of my own...

  5. I love your brain, too, sister. And did you read the post I did awhile back about finding the 9 month old easter egg in our house??? Writers can legitimize ANYTHING.

  6. Liz, who could forget the egg that went way beyond its Easter egg hunt hiding duty? I was just laughing about it with my daughter the other day, speculating what Christmas item I might find in nine months.

    In fact, that post was probably the inspiration for this one. If Liz can blog about a nine-month-old egg, by golly, I can blog about sludge!

  7. Nick, "coffee mug of Dorian Gray"...heh, heh. I hope you weren't THAT bad in school...

  8. I love hearing someone say they love their own brain!

    Jules, 7-Imp

  9. It'll be such a treat to meet your daughter some day and she'll say, "You're the slob with the archaic Easter egg?" and I'll say, "Yeah. Can I please have a cup of sludge?"

  10. I'm now singing, "Wash it, wash it, waaaash it," to the tune of the Ipana brush-a brush-a brush-a jingle.

  11. Coffee Buddy, why didn't you tell me you normally put chocolate milk in your coffee? That's awesome!

    I love the things you eat and drink. You're like a foreign country.

  12. Ha, Robin. Wait until you hear what I ate at midnight on New Year's Eve: double chocolate souffle with ice cream and chocolate lace.


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