Elvis would so

February 15, 2013 at 2:40 pm (Uncategorized)

I once ate a pigeon.

Well, I tried.

I’d been having a good day, up to that point. I was in a little black dress, twenty two floors above the neon of Hong Kong, about to end a month long jaunt via Europe. I had a Raymond Carver book and a half bottle of pinot grigio. I was familiar with chopsticks. It couldn’t go wrong.

I ordered a whole pigeon; after all, I’d eaten reindeer in Finland and a traditional Estonian dessert that could only be described as cold gruel. A pigeon would be no challenge, right?

I was reading my book as I took a piece from my plate. And here’s the thing: when I placed it in my mouth, it oozed.

My attention left my book pretty damn quickly, I have to say.

When I looked down, I saw that all that remained in my chopsticks was one tiny little beak, forlorn and hanging open.

Ever since then, I’ve been unable to hear the word OOZE without tasting the brains of one poor Hongkongese bird, and the experience is never pleasant.

As an English teacher, I constantly tell my students how much rests on their choice of words: as a writer, I live this every day. I can’t ever really be sure of the reaction a reader will have to the words I choose, to the way I weave them together…though I have to admit that uncertainty is part of what makes writing so delicious for me.

When I think of CHRISTMAS, it’s not presents or eggnog that spring to mind. No, it’s fire trucks. In the hills where I grew up, Santa Claus clung to the back of a fire truck throwing lollies to the children trailing him, hot summer winds whipping at his fake beard.

PUPPET reminds me of Prague, and a story I once wrote about a shadow puppeteer in the Old Town Square. He overwhelmed his spectators and one curious dog in rather sinister fashion, right under the medieval clock tower where a friend once waited in the rain for me for hours.

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EDIE should bring to mind Edie Sedgwick, but the name always reminds me of The Cult song, being seventeen and watching the lead singer parade across my TV screen as I wondered how a man with eyeliner and a ruffled shirt could be so much prettier than me.

For the last six months, I’ve had a rather unpleasant reaction to the words PEANUT BUTTER. In August I found my way to Memphis, and spent an emotional day in Graceland, ending up in the Heartbreak Hotel restaurant. I ordered a fried peanut butter sandwich, Elvis’ favourite, and picked it up eagerly. And people, it was not good. Thick, gluggy swabs of peanut butter clung to the oil soaked white bread, my fingertips, and the roof of my mouth. I forced my way through it – Elvis would’ve wanted it that way – but for the rest of my holiday, whenever I heard his songs or the word PEANUT my stomach heaved.

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And for an Australian, SNAKE can mean many things, but mostly danger. We learn to make noise as we walk in the bush, to keep our eyes open, our senses sharp. But for me, the word immediately brings to mind the snake skin I keep on my writing desk, coiled into a beautiful Art Deco mother-of-pearl case. I don’t think of  venom; I think of the regeneration that curls in front of me when I write, and always seems to find its way into my work.

Certain words trigger memories, emotions and responses, and when I follow them down rabbit holes I often climb back up trailing stories. Sometimes, in choosing the right word, I can even sneak up behind my reader and push THEM down the rabbit hole. It might not be what they expect – in fact, if it isn’t then I’m doing a good job – but I’ll always be there with my alphabet rope to pull them back up.

And if you were one of my students, I would ask you to note your instant associations with these words: Ivy. Smoke. Clumsy. Spanish. Birthday. Ink. Ooze.

Go on, jump down that rabbit hole…see where it takes you.

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4 Comments

  1. gretchen cello said,

    ivy reminds me of kissing your cheek during helen’s photo shoot somewhere amongst a brunswick back street. x

    • inkymouth said,

      Oh lord, yes…Charlie’s Angels in the ivy covered alleyway! Honey, smoke reminds me of black silk gowns, pomegranate cognac, and a cigarette holder on Frenchie night, with the camembert baking, studded with garlic gloves and sprinkled with rosemary, and Serge Gainsbourg crooning.

      Damn, we have some stories, right? x x

  2. Hilde said,

    Ink reminds me of learning to write. A left-handed person and a fountain-pen are never a pretty combination. I spent my days learning the alphabet with my hand, arm and clothes covered in ink stains.

    • inkymouth said,

      Hildelein, I can see you now, with a furrowed brow and ink stains all down your little arm. But you have the last laugh, with lefties being statistically more artistic…doesn’t surprise me in the least. On International Left-handers Day (August 13th) I’ll toast you, and all the other crazily creative lefties I know.

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