“Breathe in experience; breathe out poetry”- Muriel Rukeyser
“Clap your back teeth together,” the dentist said. “Now, grind.”
I did so, then he jabbed the drill back into my mouth. Pulled the trigger. As I watched arabesques of tooth-dust spiral toward the ceiling, I decided that the message from the poster was not the moral of this adventure. The text that overlaid a huge, happy heliotrope (a sunflower for those of you who despise alliteration) said “Happiness is not perfect unless shared.” I wasn’t sure this could be my great philosophical epiphany for the day. Every time I went to the dentist, a new poster had been hung. Something for the patient to stare vacantly and ponder over while the dentist played mad scientist in your mouth.
Though I’m not a fan of New Year’s Resolutions, I’ve decided to at least do one literary action. I’d like to pay attention to things more, which would mean eavesdropping more and noticing details. Walking downtown in my own city, I noticed some strange niceties I’d never noticed before. This is important for any writer, poet, or blogger. Pay attention to the things around you because they will inspire your work. Use everything around you. Experience is the elixir that we drink; when, hungover from inspiration, we spew it out, we create something called literature.
That’s what I vowed to do, to learn from every single experience. Every minute of your life spent not paying attention could be replaced by a minute of observation. Every person around you is a story. Just listen, just watch. The stories and words will come to you. Even in the dentist.
While waiting for the Novocaine to take effect, I spoke with the dental assistant. We talked whenever I went in, because she had graduated from my high school years ago. She’d gotten married since then, and apparently, had a baby. As she told me. I recounted the same stories I always recounted, mostly about the wonders of Germany. About staying with billionaires and living near palaces and going clubbing.
Only half my face felt pillow-puffy, but I told the dentist to go to work anyways, since I didn’t think it would matter. Weeks ago, or maybe months it seems, I cracked my tooth. I cannot, however, remember how this happened. I may have lost some of it in an apple or maybe it cracked while I tried to break open a crab’s pincer with my front teeth. Maybe I had fallen or had gotten slammed in the face with a basketball. I had to get it fixed, since I wore only half my tooth. That made me look pretty goofy, I guess.
You know the dentist drill. Not just the routine, but that awesomely powerful drill that cuts through bone. I tried to pay attention, but the drill began to feel like an electric shock. The Novocaine affected all the wrong parts of me. My gums began to bleed and I could taste the blood mixed with sharp bits of my tooth. He poked me again for good measure with the needle because maybe he noticed my legs having spasms each time he began to drill. Still, it hurt acutely and strangely. That pain only your teeth can feel.
Why am I telling you this? To tell a story, to prove a point. There is not much of a moral to this story. If it were a horror, he’d be drilling through my eye. Instead, this was a lesson in pain. And in men.
Men, I frankly believe, would rather endure pain than embarrassment. I believed that if I had reacted as if in pain, I would look weak. What would the dental assistant think of me then, this scrawny boy of hardly 18? I was pathetic. It was just a little pain. Just a little.
Maybe men who went off to war believed the same. War naturally scared the crap out of them, but they vowed to not show it. Instead, they went off to war as a cocky gang. Ready to kill Nazis or Communists or whoever Uncle Sam now deemed the enemy. Sure, they were frightened by the blood, bullets, and death. But each smirked at the ones who admitted their fear. They were bound by a code of honor based on embarrassment. I read about this sort of fear once in a book by Tim O’Brien, who happens to be the only war author I truly ever appreciated.
Fear, not pride, inspires so many great acts. Not pride, but rather fear of losing pride makes men do strange things. Like walk into wars where they know they may die. Or refuse more numbing agents because if I did, I’d look so unmanly.
All of this I began thinking up while leaned back in the dentist’s chair, lights blinding me, metal probes clanging around in my mouth. Blood, drool, and the gel used to make fillings began pooling on my chin, then running down onto my neck. I could not much do anything. I would wince, then rein myself in. There was no pain, I told myself. I felt no pain. I am young, invincible, and immortal. Of course nothing could ever really hurt me.
So even cracking a tooth in half gives us lessons. I’ve manged to write about this one for almost 1,000 words which is rather satisfying since in the past few days, I have been unable to write any blog posts. I have immersed myself in books and in writing my own fictional material. Inspiration, though, comes from everyday experiences. As a writer, maybe it’s my job to pay attention. Even when I’m embarrassing myself, blood-colored spittle leaking out of my mouth, I am learning something.
Take a walk. Go get coffee. Begin talking to people. Learn the stories that might inspire you. Live the stories that might become your next masterpiece. Notice everything your eyes can see. Listen even to silence, for even that speaks with great magnitude. Perhaps I do have a New Year’s Resolution: pay attention and make use of my life. Simply, allow myself to be inspired.