A muse

Rhobin Courtright’s question for her faithful bloggers: “Where do you get your ideas for stories?”

This is recycled from the introduction of my anthology, Through Other Eyes:

    A writer is not just a person who writes. Almost anybody can write, which is why publishers are drowning in a flood of manuscripts that no one wants to read. But a writer must write. I can no more give up writing than I can do without breathing. It is something I do all the time. Working at one of my many jobs, talking with a friend, whatever I am doing, I am also observing life and translating it into words. I look at the expression on a face, the movement of a hand, a flower, the scenery, on joy and suffering and squalor and magnificence, and all of it is stored away, to emerge some time later. Everything is ammunition for the machine gun of my imagination. It will become part of some work or another, perhaps a long time later, transformed and hidden and combined with other experiences.

One of my recent 100 word stories is You meet the nicest people in the oddest places. Go on, read it. A click will open a new window/tab so you’ll still be here as well.

Molly is clearly a young woman. I am an old man. She wears contact lenses. I never have. So, how could I get into her mind, into her experience?

People who wear contact lenses have told me about the effect on their lives. I’ve seen how they manage things, and have read about them, all without taking particular notice. Somewhere within my memory network is a node labelled ‘contact lenses,’ and for some reason or no reason at all, that node was triggered when I needed it. All human memory works this way. One measure of creativity is the extent to which distant, disparate nodes can form connections.

That’s what jokes depend on. A joke makes you laugh because the punchline is clearly apt, but from a distant node that you wouldn’t have expected to be related to what went before it. You know, like

    “Waiter, what’s this fly doing in my soup?”
    “Hmm. I think it is breaststroke, sir.”

Very recently, Sandra Warren has interviewed me. One of her questions was about difficulties. This popped out:

    Hit and Run reports on several court hearings, and I needed to research these. Advice from three lawyers was very helpful. Having to correct the details could perhaps be called a difficulty. (Isn’t English a fun language? Do difficulties come when you call them?)

“Doing” and “call” are both parts of multiple meaning networks, and there you are.

OK, but what about me being a young woman in an embarrassing situation? How can I imagine that?

The first answer is that I am cursed with very strong empathy. I can walk in the moccasins of people on a wide variety of paths. Empathy is the first lesson an infant soul needs to learn, and the more times you have lived, the stronger it gets. Your ongoing self has access to huge amounts of experience it keeps from you, because otherwise life would be an overwhelming cacophony of memories. You need that filter to focus on the world around you. All the same, those pasts are accessible through intuition and emotion, dreams and creativity.

Oh, you don’t believe in reincarnation? You need to read this and improve your knowledge.

One of my past lives was as Amelia, so while the Bob-Rich-me has never been a young woman, I can access the experience. This is not some conscious memory-mining, but simply allowing thoughts and emotions to come.

The second answer is a major tool of scientific research: inductive thinking.

As an author, I have been three-legged, three armed little green people. While I have no experiences to draw on that allow me to use my skin to feed from sunlight, or to hold one of my legs up like a kangaroo’s tail and bound along on the other two legs, I can describe these well enough that I can feel AS IF — and if my writing is good enough, I can get you to feel that way too as you’re reading about my lovely little Greenies.

You will manage that if you also have well-developed empathy. People who lack this skill are simply unable to enjoy fiction.

So, guess what. You are also a soul with many lives behind you (don’t look around now to see if they are standing there). Otherwise, you would not be interested in fiction.

To answer Rhobin’s question: my stories come from a muse. That’s why I strive to amuse.

You might want to comment on my rambling through a writer’s garden. Having done so, or even otherwise, please go for a walk in a few other gardens, with the following guides:

Connie Vines
Skye Taylor
Anne Stenhouse
Fiona McGier
Helena Fairfax
Rhobin L Courtright
Judith Copek
Victoria Chatham
Marci Baun
Diane Bator
Beverley Bateman

About Dr Bob Rich

I am a professional grandfather. My main motivation is to transform society to create a sustainable world in which my grandchildren and their grandchildren in perpetuity can have a life, and a life worth living. This means reversing environmental idiocy that's now threatening us with extinction, and replacing culture of greed and conflict with one of compassion and cooperation.
This entry was posted in Rhobin's round robin, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

24 Responses to A muse

  1. judyinboston says:

    Bob, You almost always have a unique take on the blog topics. I really enjoy reading your comments. And I agree, a writer without empathy is a sad thing, because we need empathy to get into our character’s heads and understand what they are like.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you Judy.
      It’s been the bane of my life: my common sense is unique. But it’s all right, I am not out of step. The rest of humanity is.
      A writer without empathy may be able to write nonfiction of certain kinds — cookbooks, compilations of other people’s opinions, user’s manuals. But creative writing needs empathy.


  2. Hi Bob, Have re-tweeted your story – what a gem. Empathy is a major factor in creating and enjoying fiction. Anne

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Connie Vines says:

    Dr. Bob your short story left me smiling :-). As for contact lenses, I’ve worn them sporadically in the past. However, Santa Ana winds and low-humidity made them too uncomfortable to wear. Reincarnation regression sessions are interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. J.Q. Rose says:

    As always with your writing, I had to re-read it a few times to get all the gems from it. Thanks for your blog post with the bonus of links for even more mind expansion.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hi Bob, I loved your short fiction! Too funny. I can relate to the contact lenses too. I wore them for about 5 years until an eye infection put paid to that experience. I am going to write AS IF on my whiteboard as a partner for WHAT IF.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      “AS IF on my whiteboard as a partner for WHAT IF.”
      I like this, but can’t copy it. How do I fit a whiteboard into my computer?


  6. fionamcgier says:

    Remember the movie Inception? I loved it, and once recommended it to a friend. Another friend nearby said that she and her husband hated it, since they had no idea what was going on, so they walked out of the theater. The one who I was speaking to said that she read that people who are open to new ideas, new ways to think, were the ones who enjoyed that movie. People whose minds were closed, didn’t.

    I think that can be said about writers also–we’re open to new ideas, to the point where we mine everything we’re exposed to in life, and combine them in new and we hope, interesting ways. And yes, you’re right–some who write, shouldn’t. I’ve never watched any reality shows, but my daughter tells me that many of those who go on singing try-out shows, shouldn’t be there. Whoever told them they had a voice, lied.

    Writing is a talent, not something that just anyone can do. When we’re all doing it, it’s more difficult for readers to discern what’s worth reading. But then in life, we have to make choices of what to pay attention to all the time. And since life is so random, many well-written books languish in obscurity, while hackneyed trash becomes part of the universal zeitgeist.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Fiona, this reply to me should be a blog post in its own right on yours. My only disagreement is, if someone else can do it, I can learn it (except for singing, and following directions).


  7. Marci Baun says:

    Oh? Who says you’ve never been a little green being whose skin creates food from the sun? I mean, reincarnation can take you all over the many universes and alternate dimensions. Our souls aren’t limited to Earth. 😀 I think all of us have been good, bad, and ugly, rulers and slaves. Our souls need these disparate experiences to grow. Of course, empathy helps to write. How can we write something immersive if we can’t step into someone else’s shoes?

    Entertaining post as always, Bob.


    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you, Marci. Indeed, I have lived off earth in past lives. If you read “Ascending Spiral,” you’ll find me describing what little I have recalled from my original life as a planet-sized person, and much later as an intelligent walking plant. But I am pretty sure the Greenies from my novella, “Liberator” originated within my computer.


  8. Thanks for the entertaining post, Bob! And I totally agree about empathy inspiring ideas. And apparently, so I heard, it works the other way – people who read a lot of fiction become more empathetic themselves.
    I enjoyed your thoughtful (and funny!) take on our topic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Right, Helena, we need to institute a new project: a requirement for being elected to any public position is reading at least one novel a week. 🙂


  9. Rhobin says:

    I loved your information on how the mind works and laughed at your joke! I also believed empathy is important for writing and probably comes from the muse of understanding. Enjoyed your mind ramble and the flash fiction, too!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Skye-writer says:

    I love your opening quote. It so well describes a writer. There is no retiring from being an author. Even if you stop publishing, the stories are there and need the telling.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Jan says:

    Indeed! In childhood and young adulthood particularly, and throughout our lives, reading, writing and story-sharing are key to the development of empathy, as well as numerous other faculties and skills such as inductive reasoning.


  12. sandra214 says:

    You’ve penned another thought provoking email that had me following links to further enlightenment. Thank you for sharing all that you do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dr Bob Rich says:

      Thank you Sandra. It’s fun, which is what “Everyone, everyone, everyone needs.”
      That’s quoting my favourite author, Dr. Seuss.


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