Sand Castles of the Mind

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?

4 comments :

Pat's Place said...

I loved the discussion of "sand castles of the mind." I often create a whole blog entry in my mind while I am walking on the treadmill or stretching the kinks out of my body. Then, by the time I get to the computer, those thoughts are mostly gone like a puff of wind blew them away. Strange how important they seemed, only to slip away from me when I get serious about writing them down--and frustrating also!

ybonesy said...

I can definitely relate to this topic, ritergal. The flashes of insight that one gets and perhaps even starts writing about, well, they visit me often. But then they are gone almost as soon as they come. I keep a running list now of blog posts, and sometimes I have to put a few hints next to the item, as even my headline or post name isn't enough to jog my memory weeks or months later.

I liked your friend's philosophy re: the toenail masterpieces. Very Zen.

Herm said...

My daily walk is on a park path through the woods. As I see how the clouds drift and watch the waltz of the grasses, my mind seems to come clamly into a place of revelation.
Halfway I stop and watch the creek waters coast by and attempt to solidify my thoughts. Sometimes I say WOW out loud and other times I find myself laughing or shedding a tear. I'm certain I'll get all this in copy.
When I step off the path and back onto the concrete of real life, it seems I've stepped through a portal into a world that won't support those solid thoughts.
Perhaps that's why I see that lady sitting on the bench at the rest stop writing.

Ritergal said...

I'm considering keeping my tiny Zen mp3 player on my person at all times, because it has a recording function. It's not nearly as hi fi as the iPod, but it works, and if I'd use it more often, I could do it more easily and quickly...

BTW, I love the Zen player by Creative. I have the Zen Plus V with 2 GB. The price has plummeted, and I'd recommend at least 4 GB for those shopping now. It seems that in the wink of an eye they fell from over $100 to under $50 if you keep an eye on the sales.

I use mine for listening to podcasts and books on CD (there's a ripper included with the software), as well as music. We took it loaded with books on our road trip last winter, and ported it to the car sound system, which conveniently has a line-in plug. This avoided the bulk of carrying around half a bushel of CD cases.