WEEK FOUR: Jarring the Box: David Lynch as Mind-Altering Drug

Eckleburg Workshops - Magic Realism Workshop

For centuries, writers from Shakespeare to Poe to Burroughs to Wallace and so forth have used alcohol and illegal drugs to alter consciousness for the unfettered exploration of reality in new and “unreal” ways. But you don’t need drugs to do this. We have David Lynch!

Writing Assignment

Experimental film can be great sources of inspiration for magical realist narratives. David Lynch’s short films are some of the best. The jarring nature of the above short film helps to momentarily jog the convention out of you, allow you to think outside the box and form a new reality for your burgeoning narrative. Consider “The Alphabet” as a tool. Please follow the below steps as given. They might feel very strange but stick with it:

  1. Watch “The Alphabet” again, if you’ve already watched it. Don’t try to “understand” it. Simply watch it in all its jarring and weird aesthetic. Again, don’t try to make sense of it. If you try to understand it, you’ll likely attempt to put it in your learned “conventional” box and this will diminish its mind-altering effects. Just let your mind feel jumbled. If you are of legal age and like to have a cocktail, glass of wine, beer, go ahead and have a drink before watching it. 
  2. Now, think on a mindless activity you were forced to learn for your own good and that of society, such as learning your alphabet. As a child, you likely learned the alphabet song. You repeated it over and over until it was something you could never forget. You could vomit alphabets, regurgitate it in your sleep, bleed alphabets and dream alphabets. What other conventional necessity did you learn that became so essential to your state of being that it is fluid like blood and air. Be emotionally honest with yourself as you consider this convention. What parts of this convention are helpful? What parts do you resent? For instance, you likely learned to drive, and now maybe that learned convention you loved so much at the time has become an hour and a half commute to work and home from work. Every day. Ugh. 
  3. Next, watch “The Alphabet” again. While you watch, hold this moment of necessary and resented convention lightly in your mind. Allow a juxtaposition to form within the landscape of the short film, either in whole or part. As you do this, consider the different “landscapes” or “chapters”: (a) the girl in the bed, (b) the face with sunglasses, (c) the progressive alphabet schematic, (d) the ping pong ball, (e) the room with bleeding head, (f) the nose-chin. As you do this, do not worry about whether or not anything makes sense or connects perfectly. If a connection happens, get writing! If a connection does not pop out at you, no worries. Follow the next step.
  4. Go back to the short film and choose one of the strange sections as focus, whichever one of the “landscapes” is most interesting to you in some way.
  5. Make a list of attributes. For instance, if you choose the nose-chin, describe the nose-chin, list what you see. There are no right or wrong answers here. Simply make a list of the image, the details, the strangeness.
  6. Now, imagine that strange image from Lynch’s short film magically plays on the wall of your living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom… You’ve just returned home from work after participating in that long drive home, after brushing your teeth for the millionth time, after using the bathroom or calling your mother or any number of relentless conventional practices you learned as a child or young adult and continue to exercise. You see this strange image on your wall. What do you do? Write this in first person. You are the first person protagonist dealing with this strange occurrence after such a familiar and resented practice. How might these two relate? Diverge? What does this mean to your protagonist?

* Do not stress if your narrative feels jumbled in the first draft. Just go with it. Use the second and third drafts to sculpt and begin to make sense. It’s okay for early drafts to feel out of control. This “out of control” attribute in our early drafts is an excellent place to be for innovative writers.


Below, briefly describe how this mind-altering writing exercise feels? Is it uncomfortable? Does it bring up some things you’ve not before considered?