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  • Writer's pictureM. Laszlo

Where do Ideas Come From?

Many ideas come from our conscious observations of the phenomenological world, obviously. Still, we must remember that in the selfsame moment that we consciously observe said phenomena, the unconscious mind also reflects on the experience. As such, we cannot speak about where ideas come from unless we seek to grasp the stream of the unconscious.

            In a sense, the Greek myth of the Muses holding court on Mount Helicon serves as a metaphor for the unconscious mind and all the ideas that come from that aspect of the psyche. In addition, the Greek myth of the Muses very much jibes with ancient Greek culture’s fascination with dreams. The concept of the unconscious mind goes hand in hand with the concept of dreams because a dream itself is little more than a glimpse into the stream of one’s unconscious thoughts. What is miraculous is that when we awaken, we sometimes remember that glimpse into that otherwise unknown milieu.

            A writer should always seek to learn from his or her dreams. This follows from the fact that our unconscious mind thinks for itself and stores its own knowledge and makes its own decisions. If a writer considers his or her dreams and unconscious impulses, the writer will be a better person—and the writer will present ideas that have the potential to be that much more worthwhile to the reader.

            The reader, too, must consider his or her dreams and unconscious mind—even if said reader never writes anything. Think about a man like Johnny Appleseed. Conventional wisdom tells us that he traveled the land planting apple trees as a process of sublimation. Unlucky in love, his conscious thoughts and unconscious impulses convinced him to wander about planting the beautiful, sensual trees. That’s what writers do, albeit in their own way. In short, if your mind is healthy, your unconscious mind only wishes to serve your needs and help you to be all that you can be. So, your unconscious mind sends you helpful ideas.


The Idea Book: Or, the Science of Isolating Variables and the Technique of Letting Fiction Emerge from said Variables


For many writers, artists, and musicians, every instinct tells them to jot words and ideas down onto paper lest they be forgotten. Again, the process is utterly instinctive. However, when said thinker is ready to turn the material into a book or movie or whatever else, that process can be utterly confounding. Just how is it done?

The way to do it is to separate ideas into categories—something like the way my mother does jigsaw puzzles. She separates the corner pieces from the rest, and then she separates categories by color—on the off chance that like colors must go together.

Thankfully, my mother’s jigsaw puzzle obsession taught me how to make sense of my youthful journals and idea books.

A few years ago, when I revisited my youthful London diary written in the summer of 1985, every instinct told me what to do. At first, the process was entirely scientific: to make sense of all that teenage angst and rambling, indulgent content, I had to take up a pair of scissors and to literally cut lines into pieces—fragments not unlike those of a jigsaw puzzle. There was no better way to isolate the variables.

Having done all that, only the act of brainstorming could help to fill in all the blank spaces and to turn the disparate material into actual novellas. Of course, that aspect of the process was anything but scientific. Still, the brainstorming process proved to be fairly simple. By accepting the various piles of notes and their content, it suddenly became quite clear just what kinds of subjects and themes my unconscious mind or muse would have me write about and/or dramatize.

Take Live Aid, for example. From my 1980s teenage perspective, the big London event that summer would have been the benefit concert at Wembley. At the time, everyone was talking about and/or debating the efficacy of famine relief. Even now, the topic remains quite important. Part of the problem back then followed from the fact that the dysfunction in Africa had always been a tragic function of the Cold War. At any rate, all those lugubrious conversations gave me at least a youthful understanding of just how omnipresent warfare is, was, and always will be. Thankfully, the eventual choice to put my novellas into the WW-I era gave me the opportunity to depict young people trying to come to terms with the same kinds of cataclysmic events that crept up in conversation during the summer of 1985.

Another big event/issue that emerged from isolating the variables was the AIDS crisis. Young people talked about it because many of our favorite bands talked about it. Anyway, the AIDs crisis inspired a novella in which the point-of-view character must confront the idea of sexually-transmitted diseases and the idea that at least some may prove to be lethal.

Another one of the novellas that grew out of my youthful diary hinges upon the question of obscenity and public morals. In that tale, a woman comes to see an art-gallery exhibition as the stuff of misogyny, objectification, and pornography. As such, the woman takes drastic action to rectify the problem. At any rate, the honest-to-goodness reason why that issue crept up in my journals had to do with the notorious “Page-Three Girl” phenomenon. Before spending a summer in London, I never knew that the Sun took it upon itself to publish topless pictures. The issue became unavoidable, though, because the working-class family that hosted me that summer read the Sun religiously.

Years later, it occurred to me that a similar crime as the one described in my novella did in fact happen back in that era: evidently, someone attacked a Rembrandt nude at about that time. How impressive it would be had that been the impetus for addressing the obscenity/pornography debate. Alas, the thing that got me thinking about it as a teenager was actually no more prosaic than the page-three images staring back at me from my host family’s kitchen table.

Finally, it might be a good idea to mention Hyde Park. All summer long, the Speakers’ Corner fascinated me—both because of the political activists and the performance artists. That said, when cutting up my journals and putting things back together in a new way, I quickly realized that nothing dominated the Speakers’ Corner in the summer of 1985 quite like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Even the anti-Apartheid speakers obsessed about it. At any rate, given all that time spent in Hyde Park, there could be no avoiding the issue of the Israel/Palestine conflict in at least one of my novellas. One should also remember that London society was replete with anti-Israel passion back then. The kaffiyeh had been popular there for years, and the Human League had a big hit protest song about Lebanon. In addition, John Landis had a big hit movie back in the day, An American Werewolf in London—and it told of Americans with Jewish-sounding names (David Kessler and Jack Goodman) coming to London and turning into bloodthirsty werewolves. It always seemed like a meaningful coincidence to me that the film would be so popular at a time when London’s anti-Israel sentiments were becoming so ubiquitous.

 (By the way, the idea of meaningful coincidences was a fairly popular topic of discussion back then due to the fact that the Police had an album out called Synchronicity. The title track of the album consisted of Sting more or less defining the whole Jungian concept. For what it’s worth, I think it’s great that Sting of all people was the one who really introduced Generation X to the great Carl Jung.)

Finally, it should be noted that many writers do produce perfectly lucid journals, diaries, and idea books—works that should NEVER be cut up. Still, not everybody writes cleanly. For angst-ridden teenagers, idea books and journals can be magnificently chaotic. The big challenge for me as a person turning a lifetime of idea books into fiction works is that every single diary that I have ever kept, even the ones written as an adult, are just as convoluted as the youthful one that I kept all those years ago, during that glorious summer in London.

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