"I like your dress."
"Oh my god! I can't believe you just said that to me! Like, you're so shallow, you don't even notice the person in the dress! Am I nothing to you?"
Afterward, our comedy coach explained that we had "found the game." In comedy improv lore, this is the magic moment when all the chaotic uncertainty of where the scene is headed becomes clear to the players, and they can then proceed to emphasize the pattern with ever-increasing stakes.
This afternoon, in my art studio, I realized a painterly parallel. I sat looking and looking, not knowing what to do next with my abstract flowers. Suddenly, I knew how to proceed: the shapes in the lower black foreground should be outlined in white. The flower shapes, which stood against a white background, should be outlined in black. A simple reversal, a mirrored contrast. I had found the game, which is often very simple.
Next, I checked in with one of my art coaches. I am lucky enough to have several (everybody needs a supervisor now and again), and she helped me to "see" how to keep the game going by emphasizing a subtle background with white-on-white stripes.
I have also experienced this wonderful sudden knowing with creative writing. I know some authors pre-write, but I'm more of a free-write kind of pencil-monger. I often don't know where I'm headed with a character, and I find that fun and surprising as the protagonist suddenly buys a flowered hat and I did not see that coming. They really do take on lives of their own, a premise so thrilling an entire movie based on it met with critical success (See Stranger Than Fiction, 2006, with Emma Thompson and Will Ferrell). As a middle school English teacher, I always tried to balance the planned, methodical approach so often embraced in pedagogy with opportunities for my students to just "play on paper." To add some fun, I by placed strips in a top hat with free-write topics written on each, and a lucky student would get to draw that day's topic. The addition of a chance method added to the playfulness of the enterprise, which helped students feel more comfortable with experimentation. Sometimes they found the game. Sometimes they didn't. But they always looked forward to "Magic Hat" days.
The game in my novel, Chopin in Kentucky, is based on a short story I wrote so long ago that I don't even remember how I got the idea. In this anachronistic work of magic realism, the 19th century composer of tragic music becomes the best imaginary friend of an eleven year old would-be ballerina in 1970's Kentucky. So far, I haven't been able to sell it. I still hope that I will. But I can say that I found immense satisfaction in the writing ride, even if it did take over twenty years!
Perhaps, by being open to surprise and serendipity, the game finds us. I'm still being played in the unfinished painting below!