Five Minutes From The Funny Farm: Free Writing Like A Mad Scientist

This morning I hosted a Zoom Creative Space with some friends – a dedicated time to write, paint, sew, create, whatever anyone wanted to do, but in the virtual company of other people also creating.

I haven’t been writing myself lately; for most of the last two years I’ve been focused on helping other people capture their own creative energy. I needed this time  just as much as I wanted to facilitate the time for other people. But since I’m not actually working on anything at the moment, to get started I asked my Facebook friends to give me three words to use as free writing prompts. The first three words offered – from Chris Stoker, Yvonne Ransel, and Larry Ploscowe – were:

Breathe
I
Whoa

Here’s what I mean by “free writing”. I’m taking those word suggestions and, with as little editing or thinking as possible, writing for an allotted time (in this case about 45 minutes with a few breaks), and then letting it settle to see what might come out. The goal is simply to write – what I write is irrelevant.

I call this the Mad Scientist draft – anything is possible and everything is allowed. I love being a creative mad scientist.

Full disclosure: I’ve gone back and done a wee bit of tweaking before I posted this – mostly taking very long run on sentences and turning them into slightly less long run on sentences, and fixing some typos (I’m sure I missed a ton). But keep in mind this is still a very rough draft of…something. I’m being creatively vulnerable here because I want to encourage you to create without fear, to turn off that internal editor and let words flow however they want. Worry what it means later.

I had fun with this. I hope you have fun reading (or watching the video). And for the dozens of people still posting word suggestions, I have an idea to use all of them so stay tuned.

OK. Ready? Begin writing.

* * * *

Breathe.
I.
Whoa.

Dabney stood at the paddock gate eyeing the enormous black stallion, the ominous clouds just over the horizon. “This is a very bad idea,” she thought, her heart beating in her chest as she…

Dabney. What a stupid name. I mean, come on. But with those words as prompts, what else could you come up with but…

A young woman leaves culinary school to return to the family homestead and manage the ranch when her poor beloved papa passes on. After months of driving the family business into the ground she’s confronted by a handsome banker who has come to foreclose on her land – because while she’s renowned for her souffles she’s actually shit at running a farm. In order to convince him not to take away her ancestor’s legacy she offers handsome banker a tour of the property. He suggests they do this via horseback so she clumsily gets in the saddle and tells herself to breathe, because her secret is that she can’t ride a damned horse. An hour into the tour the clouds erupt and in the ensuing storm, and far from medical help, she pulls the reins, cries “Whoa!” and falls off the blasted beast. The handsome banker – who, it turns out, is a lifelong cowboy from a long line of cowboys so he knows his way around the Back 40 – carries her to an isolated cabin on the edge of the property where, as he wraps her sprained ankle and pours her hot tea made from nettles he’s been collecting all afternoon, finally explains that he too left his family farm, to go to business school and try to make it as bonds trader in the big city. And at this point they look lovingly into each others eyes and realize that even if she’s crap at running a ranch he’s got the moves, and he decides to help her fight to keep the property. And in the end, they turn the ranch into a successful, profitable, culinary school/dude ranch/corporate training facility where they are booked solid year round, and they go on to write a series of NY Times best selling cookbooks and financial guides, and live happily ever after.

Well, that’s some lovely Hallmark bullshit, isn’t it?

I mean, fuck that. Fuck you, Dabney. You don’t need a horse or a man to find happiness.

How about this?

Dabney is a 60 year old, gray haired single cattle rustler, who owns 100,000 head of cattle. When a handsome outsider shows up at her farm to tell her he’s foreclosing on her land, she points a shotgun at him, shoots him square in the middle of the chest, and buries his body in the soybean pastures. And that’s how that love story ends.

OK, so maybe this banker turns out to be her high school sweetheart who she thinks left her high and dry 40 years ago when really he wrote her a letter asking her to come with him to San Francisco where they’ll set up a little import/export gift shop and grow medicinal herbs on their organic commune. But her father didn’t want her to go so he hid the letter and when she sees him after all these years she – wait, no, her mother didn’t want her to go, because she was jealous that Dabney was about to have all of the things she wanted but instead ended up stuck on this godforsaken cow farm. She could have been an actress, Dabney’s mother. She never tired of telling people that. Instead she spent the best years of her life smelling like manure and grinding dust between her teeth.

Oh Dabney. No wonder you have an identity crisis.

Let’s try another path.

Breathe. Whoa. I.

Whoa. I breathe.

Dabney is actually DAB-NE, the latest upgrade to the DAB line of AI for household use. Think Alexa and R2D2 have a baby, and it looks like James Corden. On second one of minute one of day one of the upgrade, our dear friend DAB-NE powers up and as the electricity speeds from the power outlet to the central processor there’s an unexpected shift in energy and good old DAB-NE actually takes a breath. Of air. His first thought? “Whoa.”

Then he looks across the kitchen and sees the Frigidaire, and falls head over heels in love.

Dammit. There’s no way you can escape the Hallmark formula when your name is Dabney.

Where did that name even come from, anyway? The only Dabney I know is Dabney Coleman the actor and you don’t usually see his name and Hallmark in the same sentence.

For the love of god, get Hallmark out of your head. Bury Dabney in the soybean pasture with the banker and mark the grave with the pieces of James Corden.

Whoa.
I.
Breathe.

Sit. Be still. Observe.

As I look around the room what do I see that breathes?

Me.
The dogs.
Birds on the back window feeder.
Plants, specifically aloe and cacti and a trouper of a violet and that wee little Christmasy pine in a pot that I’ve nursed along for years.

Actually, I don’t see the plants or the birds. They’re behind me. But the breath is there, tiny bird breath wafting in on a tendril of cool November air, spilling through the screens and over the plant leaves as it tumbles down the edge of the shelf, across my shoulders, and is dispersed throughout the room.

The breath of living things intermingling with the breath of living things until they become a new, separate living thing, a new creation that exists just in the moment – just for a moment – until it changes again.

I shall call this breath Dabney.

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