15 October 2009
Catching The Big Fish by David Lynch
Generally, I avoid books about creativity, feeding your inner muse and so on. First, because they're usually written by people not noted for their originality. Second, because I learned from reading the "writers at work" series in the Paris Review that how people work is as individual as the smell of their breath.
But I picked this up because David Lynch is an artist. Sometimes he’s a juvenile one and sometimes a hokey/folksy one, and sometimes an infuriating one. Especially when he falls back on the trite narrative solution: “It was all . . . just a dream.”
Still, he’s a visionary. His images both surprise and seem oddly familiar, as if he can dredge up nightmares and tableaux from a shared unconscious. He can make a swinging traffic signal seem freighted with dread and significance. And he’s absolutely courageous, willing to follow his ideas wherever they lead him. (A dwarf who speaks backwards? Cast him!) Maybe they don't always hang together, but they're elegant or evocative or dreamlike, and how often can you say that about a movie?
Because his vision is so strong, he’s one of the few directors to earn an adjective: Lynchian. And even if you can’t precisely define what Lynchian is, it works as shorthand for the terror and the strange that lurk at the margins of life.
His book is short and easy to summarize. Lynch says that the secret to his success, and the way to delve deep and come up with The Big Fish – the ideas that will make your work glow – is to practice Transcendental Meditation™. He offers a few stories along the way, encouragement, and some practical advice. Don’t work out of fear. Have a place to work. Working at the same place around the same time can be helpful. He's often charming; you can hear his homey Jimmy Stewart delivery as you read his book.
Otherwise, he sounds as elusive and as concrete Charlie Chaplin does when talking about coming up with ideas. You sit around and think. Lynch sat in a Big Boy with a shake. Chaplin wasn’t as specific in his autobiography, but that’s what it boiled down to.
I’ve met several people who practice Transcendental Meditation (TM). They find it helpful, and cite – as Lynch does – several studies to back up its effectiveness at reducing stress and promoting tranquility. None of them are David Lynch, though, or even Clint Eastwood, another meditator.
And you certainly don't need to meditate to be a visionary; see Brakhage, Cocteau, Fellini.
Now I'm going to stop.
And sit around.