Mad About Words sponsored a writing workshop with Ellie Watts-Russell the current writer in residence at the Kerouac house. She organized the workshop to explore the power of taste, sound and touch as artistic triggers. The workshop began in the Kerouac house living room where she asked everyone to introduce themselves and point out one quirky fact from their lives. Ellie worked in a men's prison. The man in front of me said the smell of bacon always reminded him of his time in the navy. A woman related that she electrocuted herself in the kitchen once. Every person offered a fascinating taste and I wanted to hear more. An excerpt was read from several authors who explored the senses in their writing. One paragraph was from Jack Kerouac's Darma Bums, where he described his ascent up a rocky mountainside. It was vivid and clear. Ellie had a sweet British accent, and she would acknowledge writing she loved as "Brilliant."
Ellie then asked everyone a series of questions which would help indicate if you were a visual, aural, or tactile author. One question was, after buying an item of IKEA furniture would you,
A. Read the instructions.
B. Ask a friend for advice or
C. Start building and learn as you go.
I was sketching but I am fairly sure I am a visual person. Besides I haven't fully smelled anything since I moved to Florida.
Ellie then invited everyone to the back room of the house. There she had items to stimulate the senses. For smell there was a large Magnolia blossom floating in a clear bowl of water. For touch there was a brown puddle in a paper plate that held it's form when lifted like some primordial ooze. For taste there was some cotton candy which had collapsed in the Florida heat forming compact pancakes of multicolored sweetness. Ellie was mortified and put out some fresh "candy floss" but everyone picked up and tasted the hardened masses. On the wall there were photos. A man pushed a large block of ice. A long line of people struggled up a dune. A young girls face was illuminated by her laptop.
Then everyone sat down to write. Many authors sat outside to enjoy the beautiful day. I finished my sketch as they wrote. I wanted to get home to Terry so I didn't stick around to hear what everyone wrote. I thanked Ellie for letting me sit in and started home. On the drive back I passed a black limo and a hearse. It seemed sad that only two cars followed. Later a gleaming white hearse and limo made a left turn down the Orange Blossom Trail. A large white SUV screeched to a halt in the middle of the intersection and two men in white suits jumped out to direct traffic so that the insanely long line of cars could breeze through. As an artist or author we always hope we can touch many lives with whatever we create. I wondered if my funeral would have one car or a long line in tow. It is a vain glorious thing to ponder but what matters is that I leave something behind, and that I never let my senses grow dull. Howl at the moon and rush off in search of the next sketch.