I I think most writers are pack rats. Like hoarders, they hate the thought of parting with things, but with writers, this applies to mental objects: Memories, things overheard or said, sudden images that occur in the course of the day.
The idea of losing such experience is painful, even scary to them. So writers take notes, rely on recording devices, maintain journals, etc. They end up living in the mental equivalent of a hoarder’s house, crawling their way over mounds of dead pets and people, remaindered thoughts and recollections. They find themselves frequently searching for the memoir equivalent of a toaster oven bought at a yard sale ten years ago.
I used to do all these things. Like Vince Soublik, a character in The Anything Goes Girl, I served in Micronesia as a Peace Corps volunteer. During my two years spent nine thousand miles from home, I filled six big notebooks with hoarded details. I’ve never looked into the notebooks since. But I’m sure the process of taking down notes in longhand is responsible for my remembering a fair amount. So, years after the fact I’ve been able to make use of my Micronesia hoardings.
These days, though, I subscribe to Norman Mailer’s metaphor to explain memory. Mailer’s image is that of a Swiss cheese. He said the holes in his memory were there as a natural part of the process of creation, the way the holes figure in Swiss cheese. This means only the edible still remains, the valuable. Everything forgotten—the holes—is part of the process of preserving what’s worth reflecting on.
Mailer’s idea is probably bunk, but I’m older now, and I find it comforting. I no longer keep a journal, or have a recorder in the car in order to capture some fleeting wisp of genius. I operate on the assumption the phrase or impression will be there later, if it deserves to be.
I can name people and works I admire, but I don't really know who or what inspires me to write. I admire my wife for her wit, certain friends for their courage. I admire the essays of Clive James and Gore Vidal, the novels of Elmore Leonard and Kingsley Amis. For that matter, I admire my dog for being such good company. But to be honest, I haven't a clue as to why I write. All I know is, if I don't, I become very bad company.
Barry Knister's Inspirations
After a career of college teaching, Barry Knister returned to writing fiction. The Dating Service, his first novel, was published by Berkley. He's written four other novels, including Just Bill (releasing 2017), The Anything Goes Girl, Deep North, and Godsend. Knister is the past secretary of Detroit Working Writers, and the former director of the Cranbrook Summer Writers Conference. He has published travel and humor in local markets, and writes an occasional blog/column for the Naples (Florida) Daily News. He lives in Michigan with his wife Barbara, and their Aussie shepherd, Skylar.