Stirring Coffee With An Anxious Spoon

Shortly after I published Standing On A Whale, I received a letter from one of my readers. He claimed that the book was a spirited read from which he learned much, but that he was having some trouble with one of my descriptive passages. For the sake of anonymity, we’ll call this reader TJ. Here’s what he had to say:

“The descriptive passage that drove me a bit mad was on page 150. It read, “He swirled his coffee with an anxious spoon.”  A spoon cannot be anxious. An anxious hand can swiftly swirl a spoon within a cup, but the spoon itself cannot be anxious. Professor McTaggart taught me in Creative Writing 101 that you cannot humanize an object. Have the rules changed since 1980? Am I a completely outdated writer? Am I a keypunch in a time of iPhones? I was walking about the house for ten minutes mumbling, “An anxious spoon?! This can’t be!” And then I couldn’t get that crazy scene out of my mind from “The Owl and the Pussycat” picture with George Segal and Barbra Streisand wherein she reads the first line of his newly drafted novel, and it reads, “the sun spit morning,” and she exclaims, “the sun spit morning?! What?! You Can’t say that?!The sun spit morning…that makes no sense…” and on and on they go, round for round in the middle of the night over this one line in the book, until they are asked to leave the friend’s house they are overnighting at due to their hilarious loud bickering over this one line. And here I was, walking the house, murmuring, “He stirred his coffee with an anxious spoon.” That can’t be. I mean, it could read, ‘His anxious hand swirled the coffee within the mug with such velocity the coffee spilt from the sides onto the white linen table cloth’ — but an anxious spoon?!”

The following was my partial response to TJ:

Dear TJ

“First of all, I want to thank you for your letter. Your extravagant humor amused me and delighted me at every turn.  Secondarily, anyone who takes the time to write a five page letter about anyone’s book certainly deserves a reply. I am impressed with your attention to detail. Let me address “the anxious spoon.” I am quite certain that the rules of Creative Writing 101 have not changed very much since 1980, but I have changed a lot. No longer am I a rule-follower. In my reality, the “cow can jump over the moon” and “the dish can run away with the spoon.” I can even allow the spoon to feel anxious. It is a freeing world, this world of writing, and once in a while I allow myself to break the rules and indulge in creative wonder. I do not remember planning that line on page 150. It flowed quite naturally out of my subconscious and I never gave it a second thought. Perhaps I am learning to let go of my preconceived ideas of the way things should be. Perhaps I am learning to let go of those artificial boundaries that have enslaved me for so long. We are all one, after all. There are no boundaries.”

Write whatever is in front of you. Write to free yourself. Leave the rules behind and remember, “The dish can run away with the spoon,” even if the spoon is anxious!

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