After dipping my toe in an excerpt to read for a creative writing class, I'm now fully swimming in 582 pages of the book, The Tin Drum by Günter Grass. In one scene, the little boy Oskar wants to learn how to read but doesn't want anyone to know. A friend of his mother's tries to teach him, but he tears out the pages from the book and crumples them. "Sometimes I feel like giving up. But when I see how happy he is with the book, I let him tear it up and ruin it" (80-81). Meanwhile, Oskar hides the crumpled paper balls under his sweater, takes them home, spreads them out, and practices reading in private. The pages are not merely from one book. They are from one book by Rasputin and from a second one, Elective Affinities by Goethe; Oskar sees each as a balance to the other. He soon mixes and shuffles the flattened pages of his "unbound book," and "…he read the new book with growing astonishment…" (81). The juxtaposition amazes him.
Juxtaposition. This is one of my favorite tools in the artist/writer toolbox. We naturally look for patterns and relationships between people and things. Put two things next to each other, preferably opposites, seemingly unrelated objects or words, and the viewer/reader starts trying to make the connections. Lisa Kokin has merged at least two different texts together in each of her altered books for decades, giving us an altered look at life. The title of Judith Tannenbaum's book, Teeth, Wiggly as Earthquakes immediately puts teeth and earthquakes side-by-side to shake up our imaginations. Susan Goldsmith Wooldridge writes about juxtapositions this way in her book poemcrazy, "Tape words on tickets or anything you want.…Pin or prop them up around your house. I've got smile leaning up against my lamp.…See where your words take you" (17-18).
If you'd rather play with colors than words, you can make effective collages by cutting out two complementary colors and working only with them. Take discarded magazines or catalogues and tear out shapes in varying shades of reds and greens for one collage, oranges and blues for another, and purples and yellows for a third. You may find that these juxtapositions, these new arrangements, will also drum up astonishing scenes. You may not even know, when you begin, where you want to go.