Flip through the book, stopping at pages that interest you. Take a moment to study each double-spread, enjoy the images, read the labels. Keep a pen and paper handy to write down any ideas, associations, phrases or memories that occur to you.
Here are my impressions during this exercise, in real time:
The first pages that catch my attention are entitled Fungi and Lichen. I look at the diagrams and can’t picture myself writing about volva and globa and soprophores (at least not with a straight face). One of the pictures reminds me of the walk the kids and I took on which we found a piece of bark covered with lichen. My Right Brain starts spinning worlds where–instead of trees and plants–there are forests of mushrooms and meadows of lichen. Fungi need organic matter to feed on, so maybe I should put my lichenous world on a massive branch of a World Tree. Ah, yes. Yggdrasil. Norse mythology and giant-sized fungi–I could go for that!
Next up, the pages on medieval churches and Gothic architecture. I love architectural terms: flying buttresses, lancet windows (staggered triple lancet windows, no less!), cinquefoil molding. Now I actually get to find out what all those are! Recently I read an article about an actress who turned a 1910 Catholic church into a residence. What else might a Gothic church be used for, aside from religious services or as a tourist trap? A hospital or orphanage during wartime. Turned into a hotel by some enterprising billionaire. A shelter for homeless people, a meeting place for some kind of secret society. Converted into a high-tech dance club–or a Virtual Reality nightclub??–in a dystopian future. Ooh, I like that one.
My third example: pianos. Not too surprising, since I have pianos and the playing of them on my mind a lot (plus I need to practice right after I finish this!). Right Brain throws in all kinds of piano-related associations: the Holly Hunter movie, the poem Piano and Drums by Gabriel Okara, Sea Mist and Moonlight Sonata and Fur Elise. What a complicated instrument the piano is! RB sends up slices and slivers of Stories That Could Be: a missionary’s wife bringing a piano into the jungle, a fabulous piano maintained through dark sacrifices, a family of little Borrower-type people living in an abandoned old grand piano, someone calling a piano repairer in the middle of the night, insistent on having him come out to repair a piano right away and offering a lot of money to do it…
In this exercise–in all of them, actually–the visual images act as lenses to focus RB’s attention. They’re lightning rods that attract memories, trivia, news stories, snippets of literature. It’s a way to bring many ideas together around some connecting thread, in the hopes of sparking a story. I believe stories are born of the unexpected and unlikely marriage of two or more ideas that, at first glance, have nothing to do with each other.