Write a scene or synopsis using a scientific principle as a starting point – there are theories that fascinate me, but, of course, at this moment, they have all fled from my consciousness. I can’t think of a single one.
Turning to podcasts of Radio Lab to spur on inspiration, I come across the idea of ‘emergence.’ The first piece is about a husband and wife team of researchers studying fireflies – the image of thousands of fireflies released into a dark room, how they start out random and then suddenly become synchronous – the emergent process in action. And a beautiful image.
The idea comes – how are human relationships emergent processes?
Research – the term ‘emergent’ was coined by G. H. Lewes who was George Eliot’s spiritual husband.
Synchronicity – I am currently reading Middlemarch. To use Eliot’s language. “The mind is not cast in marble.” To use her and Lewes and their lives to explore consciousness, free will, emergence.
I’ve had one of those explosions in my mind where ideas that seem disparate suddenly fall in line and make total sense. That emergence explains the idea of perception – it was about color. Color as an emergent property. Elementary particles have no color, it is only when the particles band together that we get all the colors of the rainbow. And how we go from being one cell, one zygote, and become these organisms of differentiated cells; and how blind, deaf, and dumb collections of electrical impulses become us – humans with intelligence and self-awareness.
I have never worked this way before – finding a structure first, in this case from a scientific process, and then allowing the story to fill the frame provided. It’s been fascinating to feel the story fall into place. And the way it’s falling into place in line with the scientific process itself – out of chaos comes this whole.
Usually, I have the story first and then the structure. Which feels…cumbersome compared to this, like I’m imposing something on the story and characters, finding a way to order the experience, but usually just going with what comes up.
It strikes me that this is what I’ve been looking for with one of my projects – I have the characters and the story, but have been unable to move forward on putting it down. I thought I was looking for voice, but I think, actually, I was looking for the framework with which to tell it, the structure from which to hang all the other elements.
Now – if I want to end the play with the image of fireflies in a room, where does that image start? How does it resonate with where the play begins? What does it link to?
“If you never make any mistakes, you are not trying problems that are hard enough.”
Tim Baumgartner, math teacher, Torrance, CA.
I have the image of chaos on the stage – a whirlwind of activity slowly becoming ordered as George Eliot and George Henry Lewes enter from opposites sides of the stage. A Victorian market, patterns of action emerging as they come into proximity, like a ballet, until the couple meets, talks, and daily life (with the patterns still discernable underneath) taking over.
What surprises me is how quickly this all fell into place. I have wanted to write from this type of research for a long time, but held back because I did not think I had enough time to research a topic fully enough to develop a story. Yet, here it is, in a matter of days. And I am not an expert on emergence or George Eliot or George Henry Lewes, but I have enough that I would be able to go on and write the play and do more research as I needed to.