Priming the Pump
Patrick grew up in Chicago, Illinois and lived significant amounts of his life in Michigan, Texas and Germany before settling in New Zealand. His work can be found in Flash Frontier: An Adventure in Short Fiction, Glitterwolf, Chelsea Station Magazine, Jonathan and most recently in the first issue of the illustrated magazine, Sixpenny. Future work can be read in Headland and the upcoming Wilde Stories 2015: The Year’s Best Gay Speculative Fiction.
An image comes to mind. I remember my great grandma out back behind the sprawling clapboard farmhouse with an old green bucket in one hand and ratcheting the iron pump handle up and down with the other. She said you had to give water to get more water as she primed the pump and worked up a sweat, all bent and purposeful, and waited for the flow to gush forth. Currently, I’m taking some time to prime the pump… My metaphor for reading, observing, collecting and experiencing to undam the river of words that seems to be as of late drought-dry no matter how much I jackhammer that handle.
When stuck I return to story in whatever form. Recently I saw John Cage’s Suite on Toy Piano performed and a young man in drag sing Cathy Berberian’s Stripsody. I have just finished Justin Torres’ devastatingly beautiful novel, We The Animals and Sherman Alexie’s book of poems and short stories, War Dances. I always carry a book of short stories, a novel and a bit of poetry with me. Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, Alastair Reynolds’ space opera, Pushing Ice and Stephen S. Mills’ A History of the Unmarried have made their way into my backpack at this moment. All prime the pump; all feed the well.
At times like this, I rummage and sift through my journals and recall. There are old ticket stubs from plays and movies, last year’s World of Wearable Art show and the Hokianga vehicle ferry from three summers back. News clippings about stolen pies and a missing surfer from various local papers such as the Timaru Herald and the Taranaki Daily News are carefully unfolded. Black and white photos are inserted between journal pages. There’s one of my grandma in the 30’s, cigarette hanging from the corners of her lips, white trousers, looking tough for the camera as she drapes an arm nonchalantly over a friend’s shoulders. Another is a faded 1970’s Polaroid with its gold and avocado hues of a dining room table surrounded by dark stout Irish and Lithuanians and a young spectacled priest at the head, blessing the food at my first communion celebration. There are postcards from Berlin, Paris, the Rhein, Prague, Madrid, Kansas, Akaroa and of paintings by Kandinsky and Picasso and of 1950/60’s Mexican cinema posters, such as Santo vs. Las Mujeres Vampiro and La Sombra Vengadora.
As I write, music plays. It always does. From Mozart to Mogwai, Madonna to Marilyn Manson. Depending on my mood and the mood of the characters, I might need Fat Freddy’s Drop or Florence + the Machine, The Rolling Stones or Radiohead, The Kinks or Cab Calloway, Aerosmith or Arvo Part. Lyrics from songwriters who sing their stories create an atmosphere of words and sound and beat that’s almost trance-like and I find my fingers fly across the keys and things begin to flow. Lately, it’s been Sigur Ros and Hozier, The National and Nina Simone on my replay.
Cafés, park benches, train platforms and airports allow for unobtrusive people-watching and the mini-moments that are here then gone, surfacing briefly to express some quick glint of story that might find its way onto a stark page in Times New Roman. Snapshots of the now: Jogging Dads pushing little ones in buggies; Mums off to work in black power suits; teens on their way to school laden with bulging backpacks and cumbersome gym gear and violin cases; couples laughing, arguing, quietly strolling side by side; tourists flooding from buses to take photos on selfie-sticks; ladies who lunch over lattes; blokes who bullshit over beers; seniors and skateboarders; and everywhere the mix and mingle of a Babel of languages. Everything to inspire and intrigue. Opportunities to extrapolate and extend: what if…what would happen when…what would he/she do and why…. Always the why… And all to prime the pump and feed the well.