Photo by Andrew Miesem
I often have trouble writing a blog post because my point of view shifts like the surface of the sand under the incoming tide. The sand stays there, but the sand castles built on it during the low tide are gone by the next low tide.
In case you wonder what sand castles have to do with blog posts, let me flesh it out: I read voraciously, favoring mystery, memoir, metaphysics and writing instruction. Sometimes I pick up a good novel, a historical work, or a volume of neuroscience discoveries. As I read this material (mostly print volumes, but I do read occasional eBooks, web material, and magazines), I have lots of “Aha” moments that relate to writing. I’m learning to grab my journal to capture these moments, because they tend to be as fleeting and changeable as story ideas.
Sometimes I even sit down to write a blog post about one of these flashes of insight. I started such a post yesterday based on my euphoric memory of the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics. I was distracted about two paragraphs into the post and set it aside. This morning I sat down to finish it, read what I wrote, and scratched my head. What was I thinking about when I started it? These words that were so blazingly alive and compelling in my mind when I began writing had become ashes on the screen. All I can tell you about it this morning is that I was utterly transported as I watched the magic of those performances, and I marveled at the repeated ability of groups of 2008 human beings to move with the collective grace and synchronization of a flock of birds on the wing. The technological innovations and sheer creativity of the event were beyond anything I could imagine. But what does that have to do with writing? I’m stumped!
I have other half-finished blog posts that are equally baffling. And it’s not just blog posts. I have piles of half-finished stories that have grown cold in storage (most are technically essays or interpretations of memories more than actual stories)). I start out to record some insight about the past, and it’s often as ephemeral as the morning mist that disappears in less than an hour after the sun rises.
What’s a person to do? These insights seem so compelling at the moment, and even if they are only half formed, they are thoughts I want to hang onto, whether to share or further develop. I wish I could give you some sage advice, but the best I can do is urge you to keep paper handy and jot them down. With story ideas it’s enough for me to jot a few words to capture the memory. Insights are different. I need to capture a more complete image, because the insight is unlikely to embed itself firmly in memory.
But perhaps the greatest wisdom on this matter comes from a friend whose granddaughters always paint her toenails when they visit. Dorothy’s toenails are works of art, each nail unique and different from the others. On recent visits, the girls have begun naming each image.
“Do you take pictures of them?” I asked after admiring her latest pedi-gallery.
“Heavens no! Why would I want do that?” she replied.
“They’re art. Don’t you want to immortalize them?” No. She does not. The important thing is to remember the time with her granddaughters. The laughter and love are what matter, not the collection of dots and curlicues.
I’m starting to look at my insights that way. They are visits with some vast reservoir of infinite wisdom, refreshing as sips of water from a mountain spring, but that reservoir is always there. I don’t need to capture each sip. That would only matter if I believed I’m responsible for the insights. My current point of view is that I’m not. They are gifts, much like birds and butterflies, or like sand castles — to be admired, but not captured. Over time, like drops of rain, each insight contributes to my evolving understanding of life, of truth, and of writing.
Write now: about an insight you've recently had, your beliefs about insights, or your experience with forgetting them. How have your insights evolved over time?