May 26, 2008

feeeeeed me...

As a youngest child, I was a notorious brat. These days, I like to think of myself as a low - maintenance kind of person. I'm not allergic to much of anything, and aside from my hatred of mayonnaise, my appetite is easy to please. (I'm sorry, but mayo is NOT a substitute for sour cream. Never has been, never will be.) I don't get bent out of shape over good-natured clutter. I don't wince if books are returned to me dog-eared. I'm not concerned with what brand of this or that I'm wearing, I'm pretty sure I'll never own a Birkin bag, and if (on the rare occasion I have painted nails) my nails get chipped, I don't care. (although, according to the New York Times, having chipped nails is the fancy-pants thing these days, so long as you're put together every other way. - Whatever.)



As much as I pride myself in my low maintenance status as a woman, I've recently noticed that my brain (at least the creative part of it) has gone into full-on brat mode. Like Harry once said to Sally, "You're the worst kind - you're high maintenance but you think you're low maintenance." Bratty brain's gotten all needy on me, she needs to be fed, she needs to be "understood." I used to be able to appease her with a tub of popcorn and a cheesy flick, but after dragging her out to see the new Indiana Jones movie this weekend she wailed..."why couldn't we have stayed home and watched Amelie and eaten some decent European chocolate?!"

poor baby.

Still, she isn't to be trifled with. I know that if she doesn't get what she wants, she'll turn against me and start churning out stilted dialogue and laughable plot twists. If I ignore her, she'll pull the plug completely...leaving me alone at my desk with nothing but writers block.

As I can't afford to have that dreaded disease right now, I've decided I'd better give little Brat Brain some attention. Every day, she'll get a stimulus package, filled with odds and ends to get her going again. Today's package included, a thumbing through Bourgery and Jacob's Atlas of Human Anatomy and Surgery, listening to Sarah Slean's the Baroness, having a square of dark chili chocolate, and landing on the following picture from last October's trip to NYC.


That is the beautiful and amazing Angelica (AKA Insectavora) of present-day Coney Island fame.

When I was getting ready for my trip to New York last autumn, I made extensive notes on the research I wanted to do while I was there - places I wanted to visit, books and documents I wanted to ferret out, people I wanted to meet. I was hoping to cram in as much as possible, all of it surrounding the work I was doing on my next novel - The Virgin Cure and my play - Jerome, the Historical Spectacle.

The circus sideshow setting for the play hadn't quite worked itself out in my bratty brain yet, so I looked up the Coney Island web site to see if anyone would still be hanging around in mid-October. Of course, I found they were pretty much closed down for the season, all the sideshow performers having gone their own ways. With only a limited amount of time in the city, I figured this wasn't the trip to meet any of them, and that was that.

I spent a fair bit of time at the New York Downtown Hospital and the New York Historical Society Library. I also wandered around the neighbourhood where the Women and Children's Infirmary once stood, walking the same sidewalks my great-great grandmother once walked, looking for places my characters in The Virgin Cure might inhabit. One afternoon, while looking at the facades of 19th century buildings on Tenth street, I decided to come down Second Avenue for a bit. My head still craning to get a look at something old, I nearly ran into a woman who was walking her dog. It was her! It was Insectavora! Of all the performers listed on the Coney Island site, she was the one I had most wanted to meet.

For a moment, I thought it should be enough that I saw her at all, that I should just keep walking, but bratty brain wouldn't let it go. "You can't count on me to remember this forever. Besides, who will believe you if you don't have proof!" I found myself stopping in front of the woman and declaring, "It's you!"

She just stared at me in a kind, but unimpressed way -

I started talking at break-neck speed (New Yorkers always have somewhere to go, so I knew I didn't have long...). "You're Insectavora, right? The woman from Coney Island? I saw you on the web site, I wanted to meet you, but I'm not from the city, I'm from Canada, and I only have a few days here, and what are the chances? This is crazy! I'm sure you think I'm crazy...but I'm writing a play, and the sideshow performers are the heroes (that last bit of course, was decided right there on the spot) and I just can't believe it's you. May I take your picture?"

Long story short, she said "yes." She was sweet and unassuming. In our moment of accidental meeting, she was kind and gracious and put up with my babbling and my questions. Today, when I looked at that photo again, I was reminded of a warm, sunny, October day when the Universe stepped in to show me I was on the right path.

"See?" Bratty brain scolds, as if this was her plan all along... "It's important to feeeeeed me once in a while!"

What will you feed to your bratty brain today?

10 comments:

Shelli said...

This is a great story - how you discovered/researched parts of your story.

I have noticed that I am happier and more at peace when I spend a little time each day writing, reading and perhaps listening to some insightful podcast on my iPod. Frankly, as a mother to a toddler, my iPod is a savior. I can listen and chase him at the same time!

Ms. McKay, I just finished reading The Birth House the other night, and I wanted to write to you and tell you how much I enjoyed the book! The story still lingers in my mind, and I wish I had a friend like Dora in real life! I will definitely put your second book on my wish list.

marta said...

I just watched a video of a talk with Gregory Maguire and Susan Cooper at MIT. Go figure. Does that count?

EDWARD said...

Ami - FYI: I put a link to this post at http://halifax.infomonkey.net

Dawn said...

Coincidence? No such thing! Yes, you were (and are) definitely on the right path, my friend! :) I love that...

grits said...

ahhhhhhh, a little 'ami-fix'-
thankyou!!!

Cheryl A said...

Right now my bratty brain is searching for a good book and sleep. However, a newborn and those two things don't go together.

Thanks for the story.

Anonymous said...

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Catherine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Dear Ami,

We met at your book launch in Toronto a few years ago. I am also a knopf writer. I think at the time you told me that you read my book TOO CLOSE TO THE FALLS. I have just written a sequel.

I have just finished THE BIRTH HOUSE and really liked it alot.

I also love your blog. I read it and decided I have to get out of the Victorian era and start a blog.

If you are ever in Toronto again give me a call and we can 'do' lunch.

All the best,
Cathy gildiner

Halfnthebag said...

I've been a seeker of late.
A seeker of information, of a muse, of inspiration and motivation.

Thank you for 'being there'.

Maybe one day you too will be seeking and I can be the provider for some of that for you.

Keep writing. *(I need to listen to myself sometimes ;)