Non Sequiturs: Finding Literary Inspiration in Stream of Consciousness

l-e-kimball-author-photo  Seasonal Roads

By L. E. Kimball

I’m not sure who came first, but it must have been either Chevy Chase or Steve Martin. It was too early for Tim Allen, though he comes often. Not Steve Martin, though. The last time he arrived in my dreams, he never went on at all. Just hid under my desk because he said if he came out, I’d force him to have sex with me.

I assured him I only wanted him to fix the oven.

I always have trouble with Steve, it seems. And that’s unfortunate because I always have such hopes for us. There was this one night he showed up (he was our next door neighbor and we all had sloping front lawns in the dream neighborhood) and he was exasperated because the trees and bushes—everything and anything he tried to plant–slid down out of his yard into a big pile in the road, accordion-like. We were used to this in our own yards. But Steve thought this was my fault; I thought so too.

                                                 “Spinner Falls” – Seasonal Roads


I dream about comedians. Lots of them. But I dream most often about Steve Martin or Tim Allen.

I write about comedians, too, sometimes, as in the excerpt above. Even when I don’t, they influence me and therefore, they influence my writing.  Once in a writer’s workshop, the members read my comedian story (above) and they said a character (and by inference the author who wrote it) must be a total narcissist to dream about famous people, comedians notwithstanding. But I can only say that when I watch them, the good ones, I realize I am looking at the smartest people on earth, that in order to understand the nuances and subtleties of comedy and language, they must be brilliant—and I suppose I identify with their neuroticism, their angst, their sadness. They influence me because even though they realize that tragedy and comedy are a heartbeat away, and they might even argue there is no difference between them, they do laugh and they make me laugh, and laughter is the only thing that gets me through this life.

 Tim Allen showed up one night and we spent the night looking for hood ornaments. Like in his book, I’m Not Really Here. Everywhere he turned there were hood ornaments. He looked at me seriously at one point. Comedians, he told me, are the only people who know that The Divine Comedy is a journey from Heaven through Purgatory ending in Hell, not the other way around. I wasn’t sure what Heaven and Hell had to do with hood ornaments.

But I was thinking how my comedian phenomenon itself is synchronistic in nature. Well, maybe it isn’t, I guess they’d have to really show up in my bed to qualify, but it seems synchronistic just the same.

                                                 Spinner Falls” — Seasonal Roads


All comedians are philosophical but none more so, it seemed to me, than Steve Martin and Tim Allen. Steve Martin studied philosophy; Tim Allen has obviously done the same in at least some limited context. Woody Allen and Robin Williams come to mind . . . .

But regardless, my fascination with comedians is something that needs to be said about me.

So one night I was lying in bed contemplating a character I wanted to write about whose husband had been cheating on her. The relationship was toxic, yet neither could let go of it.  Failed? Maybe. Yet toxic or not, nothing is truly “failed” until it is over, or so I was thinking. As I was pondering the complexity of this, I looked over and saw my husband snoring away in bed with me, mouth wide open, inhaling with enough force to rattle the walls and pull the curtains from the windows. I thought about how people in bad relationships sort of “feed one another” and I started to laugh. A short story, I think to myself: comedian sections interspersed with a second person Kafka-esque magical realism that might depict the paradoxical, sad (yet humorous) nature of toxic relationships, of marriage—a story where the woman sees her husband as a metamorphosed giant amphibian bug, the two of them trapped in a maddening purgatory…


You sleep naked now. Before he had insisted on it. Now it’s your personal revenge.

Next to your bed stands an oak nightstand that once belonged to his mother, dark, heavy grained, upon which rests a delicate lace doily, a pair of dime store reading glasses, a few books written by women he refers to as your “harpies” (Atwood, Oates, Moore, Proulx), and a book called Trout Stream Insects, an Orvis Streamside Guide. Oh, and that collection by Kafka you stumbled along at the library reading selection of the month.

Next to the books there is a square jewelry box your own mother gave you—made of glass the color of purple oxidized blood. It has a matching lid that is attached on two sides with antique brass hinges, the bottom lined with plushy white satin—stark against the red glass—and on top of the colorless satin the daily ritual:  the results of today’s foraging.

Not too extensive; certainly not a collection as diverse as what is featured in the Orvis Guide:  a couple mosquitoes (one you slapped after it had sucked a bit of blood from your kneecap), a medium-sized house fly, a papery mud-colored moth, and two tiny gray spiders … not the real fuzzy kind because, after all, that could be a little too much.

All dead.

Oh, and tweezers. You always need tweezers.

                                                    “Spinner Falls” – Seasonal Roads


There is some connection to luck—or lack of it—tied to writing for me. Some connection to the universe, a cosmic energy or whatever you want to call it, something one must “tap into.” Talent is involved– we writers always think there is at least some of that—and certainly fortitude. But synchronicity is part of it: that place where luck and fate meet faith.

You might, however, think luck and fate are antithetical to one another. I’m a mixed philosopher type, believing neither in determinism or indeterminism. (Mills maybe?) Causal relationships between one event and another somehow still related to volition/signs/luck/opportunity.  If three people are thrown into the sea, the determinist might say it’s all fated so he might as well not swim. The indeterminist might think it is all chaotic chance and not swim either, but a mixed philosopher, according to Mills, might swim until a boat or plane showed up. Now the determinist will stubbornly argue that the mixed philosopher only believed he had some control over the outcome because he was raised to believe it, while someone else believed they had no control because he (she?) was raised that way—or circumstances had conspired—so he or she couldn’t believe, but these are still, he’ll argue, all causal relationships. Well, OK, maybe, but I maintain that if a person believes a thing—for whatever reason (perhaps just reading Mill) – he might, nevertheless, actually change the course of events.

So these days, despite the nagging feeling that I really might be fated to believe in Mill and ultimately have no control over anything at all, I believe anyway.  And this belief has led to the next insane belief:  that someone out there at some point might indeed connect with my work—and therefore save me!


Your friends tell you straight out. About wine bottle and glasses on innocent shopping sprees, back rubs in chance moments they’d spent alone with him. Vague suggestions you had better keep him satisfied. 

Once you protected them from him. Now you no longer bother.

He doesn’t do confrontation.

You left the orange peels in the sink again, you say. No reaction. You’re tracking mud all over the house. Not a flicker. I don’t like it when you drink every night in front of the kids. Nope, not even an up-yours, kiss-my-ass kind of look. Nothing. What was it Margaret said? A riddle:  What is more powerful than God, more evil than the devil, the poor have it, the rich lack it, and if you eat it, you die?


The answer was nothing.

                                                     “Spinner Falls” – Seasonal Roads


Synchronicity. Jung coined the term and defined it as “meaningful coincidences” (if those coincidences occur with no causal relationship yet seem to be meaningfully related). I’d have some pressing life question or writing conundrum on my mind and suddenly someone on TV or in the grocery line would be talking about something completely unrelated to my problem and yet would seem to have the answer to my life/writing dilemma. This seemed to necessitate a sort of mindful living, a sort of Buddhist-type tuning into yourself while simultaneously turning outward to the universe around you. And that necessitated, in turn, an underlying sort of optimistic outlook toward life and my work that belied outward appearances to the contrary.


Why is it always funnier to watch someone doing something asinine if they run by a window or a door, far away? Like Chevy Chase in Funny Farm. Watching him wrassling that snake down the lawn looked so much funnier through the window with his wife unaware of his predicament than it would have up close and if she’d seen it—

That private joke with the audience.

Maybe it’s easier to laugh at people from a distance.

                                                        “Spinner Falls” – Seasonal Roads


So on this particular evening, I had seen Chevy Chase in Fletch, dancing with the animated characters in one scene and singing “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah.” I giggled. Full of a synchronistic black humor myself, I sat up and finished the entire story in three hours. Here is the ending:


You remember the insects—how they hatch over rivers in the early evening.

Mate and die.

These days comfort comes only in your ritual. You do it not just for you, but because you know he needs it, has come to depend upon it as much as you do. He snores and heaves, mouth hanging open like usual. Pink sticky tongue oozing out of the gash that is his mouth, all of it vibrating with the shuddering gasps of his next breath. You’re tired and you think maybe tonight you’ll just skip the whole thing. But it’s the only thing left for either of you and it must be done.

You lift the tweezers from the bedside table, open the glass lid of the box and poke through the assortment. You look over to see if there is any further change in him. His teeth seem shorter, mouth bigger. Thumbs? Does he have thumbs? It’s something you’d like to know, but his hands are tucked underneath him.

What will it be? You decide on the mosquito, the one you slapped this morning while reading Margaret Atwood, and using the tweezers, you pick him up gently by one papery wing. Is he quite dead? Maybe a wiggle or two. You drop it then—carefully onto his tongue. As far back as you can manage.

Then it’s gone with hardly a falter in his breathing. What will it be next? Maybe the spider next. You lift one, a semi-fuzzy, grayish-brown one, by one of its back legs, hold it suspended over his waiting, eager mouth. You wait, you wait, keep waiting…

You drop one more insect—the moth—into his eager, greedy mouth.

It seems right—for both of you.


“Spinner Falls” — Seasonal Roads

L. E. Kimball has been published in Alaska Quarterly Review, Massachusetts Review, Washington Square (New York University), Orchid, A Literary Review, Gray’s Sporting Journal, and Lynx Eye. Her first novel, A Good High Place, was published by Switchgrass Press. Her second novel, Seasonal Roads, was published by Wayne State University in 2016. She has also had creative nonfiction published in dozens of national publications such as ByLine, Exceptional Parent, and Country Almanac, and she’s been published in the op-ed section of The Detroit News. Author Lisa Lenzo reviewed Seasonal Roads for Read Her Like an Open Book on August 15, 2016.

Lynn holds a bachelor’s degree in English and an MFA, both from Northern Michigan University. She is currently an Assistant Contingent Professor at NMU.


Differently Motivated: In Defense of the Slacker-Writer

Monica McFawn 2016   Bright Shards of Someplace Else

By Monica McFawn

I wasn’t—and have never been—a particularly good student.  In fact, the best way to describe me as an undergraduate was as a slacker—and an unrepentant one at that.   School, for me, was a dance of strategy and deception.  Do as little work as possible but give the impression of working hard.  If your mind drifts, nod more vigorously to feign engagement. Write showoffy, passionate essays to hide sloppy research and logic.  Laugh at the professor’s jokes to build up goodwill you can later leverage for assignment extensions.  If class is held in the library for a “research day,” dart down the stacks and scurry to the exit when the professor isn’t looking.  Be sure to sign the attendance sheet first, of course.

I enjoyed the drama that my slacking created—the exhilarating all-nighters, the perfectly calibrated performances of my bogus excuses, the passable grade wrenched from the maws of failure.  I like to believe that I may have written one of the first emailed excuses to a professor in a time when it was still a novelty.  I remember it to this day:  Due to a series of complex misfortunes, I cannot attend class…. The pleasure of school was not in learning the material, but learning—outwitting, ideally—the game of school.   I was a bullshitter, a brownnoser, a layabout, a faker—but, in my mind, free.  Every time I skipped class, I felt the thrill of shirking a responsibility, of rejecting others’ expectations in order to follow my own interests.   Slacking seemed like a way to preserve my selfhood, even as I was told my life would be defined by how well I did in school.

I’m a professor now, and now I’m the target of the expertly performed excuses, the fake laughter, the bullshit.  I also see now what I didn’t then—that a college education is a privilege, and my slacking itself was the behavior of someone lucky enough to have a supportive, soundly middle class family.  Still, even with the wisdom of age, I admire the old slacker version of myself.  My eighteen-year-old self may have been ruled by sloth and mischief, but I’ve come to believe that “slacking” can actually be beneficial for writers—especially women—for two main reasons.

  1. Slackers know how to prioritize and protect their boundaries.

A slacker’s day is a series of refusals.  No, I won’t get up before noon.  No, I won’t clean the dishes, make the bed, do the laundry.  No, I won’t study.  No, I won’t go to class.  No, I won’t visit the professor during office hours. And like that great slacker of American Literature, Bartleby, I didn’t even bother with an excuse if I could avoid it.  I preferred not, and that was all the justification I needed.

Nowadays, I realize how important this slacker-skill is, especially for women. Saying no is critical to the creative life.  Saying “no” is a way of protecting one’s boundaries, of leaving time for the art and people we truly care about.   When my book,  Bright Shards of Someplace Else, came out, I overextended myself, taking on every reading, article, or interview request.  I’d forgotten what I learned from the depths of slackerdom: that I needed to protect my time and passions, even if that meant I outwardly appeared less active.   When I skipped class years ago, it wasn’t always about simply revelling in my idleness (though often it was about that).  It was also about freeing up time for what I cared about, which back then was riding my horse, reading, arguing with friends about ideas.  But as I got older and more ambitious, I forgot the simple teachings of the slacker: that saying no is not only okay, but required.

The problem is that women have been culturally conditioned to overachieve and overcommit.  It’s no coincidence that the iconic slackers of film (and TV) are historically men (think Ferris Bueller, The Big Lebowski).   Even though female slackers are finally making an appearance on the screen, research shows that women in real life find it hard to say no to excessive workloads.   Slacking is a form of power.  It’s a way of saying: “My time is worth more than this task or duty.  I’m worth more than this task or duty.” Perhaps that wasn’t exactly my inner monologue when I was lying in bed reading teen novels rather than attending class, but the argument could be made that my slacking had a feminist bent.

  1. Slackers Use Cunning to Pursue Pleasure and Avoid Difficulty

The most frequent advice that writers get is that writing is hard work that demands unwavering discipline and a willingness to embrace difficulty.  Writing is about putting in long hours, powering through discomfort, self-disgust, and boredom.  On  the face of it, the slacker seems to have no hope as a writer.  Writing is about work and difficulty, and slackers avoid those things at all cost.

Lately, however, I’ve started to see that the slacker’s ethos can even be applied to the writing process.  For years, I used to believe that I should simply keep writing when it became difficult.  This was the message I used to send to students, too, but now I find myself saying something more in line with the old slacker me. “If you feel yourself really struggling to write a section, if it’s really boring or difficult, see if there’s a way you can avoid it.  Maybe it isn’t needed.  Maybe if it’s boring to write it will be boring to read.”

There are, I realized, different kinds of difficulty.   There’s the difficulty that comes from trying to represent nuanced emotions, from dramatizing the ethics of a thorny relationship, from breaking up the “frozen sea within us,” as Franz Kafka put it. This is the type of difficulty a writer should lean into.  But then there is the difficulty that comes from having to write a dull, but logistically required passage to move your characters through time and space.  This was the type of writing I encouraged my students to slack on.

Slackers don’t work hard, but they do work smart.  A good slacker is cunning, always looking for steps that could be skipped or streamlined so she can get back to what’s pleasurable or fun.  A slacker’s mindset leads to formal innovation and experimentation as she tries out all avenues to avoid any writing that feels like a slog.  A slacker’s mindset creates a story that is all high points, since all the slacker really wants are the highs. A slacker is playful and rascally, two qualities a writer needs at least as much as a work ethic. And finally, a slacker, like a good writer, finds satisfaction in dodging an expected route.

I wrote this essay to remind myself of the value of slacking, so in the interest of full disclosure I need to report that I have succeeded and failed in this in equal measure.  I said “yes” to writing this essay—a clear breach of the slacker code.  However, I redeemed myself by both pushing back the deadline twice and pulling a near all-nighter.  My plan is to work on being a better slacker—but if I fall down at even that job, I figure I can still count it as a success.


Monica McFawn’s story collection, Bright Shards of Someplace Else, won a Flannery O’Connor Award and was named a Michigan Notable Book, a finalist for the Ohioana Book Award and an NPR “Great Read.” Her stories have appeared in journals such as Georgia Review, Missouri Review, Gettysburg Review and others, and her screenplays and plays have had readings in New York and Chicago. She is also author of “A Catalogue of Rare Movements,” a poetry/art chapbook, and host of the Nathaniel Hawthorne-themed comedy podcast, The Hawthorne Effect.  A recipient of a NEA Fellowship in Literature and a Walter E. Dakin fellowship from Sewanee Writers’ Conference, McFawn is an assistant professor of English at Northern Michigan University, where she teaches fiction and scriptwriting.  She can be found online at