Misplaced

I put down an idea somewhere, and now I can’t find it. I checked the bedroom already. I checked the living room. For heaven’s sake, I looked in the toilet bowl, but if it was there I already flushed it away. The stacks of paper on the desk and threatening to topple just as always and the books on the bookshelf lean rakishly against each other, nonchalant as they support the ones piled on top of them because I take them out and them am too lazy to put them back properly. The clothes on the floor haven’t moved for a week. The idea isn’t in any of those things. I almost remember it, almost, can very nearly taste it on my tongue. It’s no use. It’s gone. Wherever it is, maybe I’ll stumble upon it sometime in a year or two. It’ll have gotten quite dusty by then and I won’t even recognize it.

Perhaps I might have twisted it into the wires and chips in my phone or computer, pressed the buttons that spelled out the words that held my idea. If I did it’s lost in the silver tangle inside technology, because I can’t find it there either. Somewhere in cyberspace, where everything is a glowing orb or square or something that looks futuristic in a way that’s hard to picture. Somewhere there, my idea might be lurking. I won’t find it there. I absolutely just do not know where it is or what it was and it’s driving me bonkers. Really. You’d think that it would be okay, that if I plucked something from out my head it would be okay. My mind is a renewable resource. Ideas are still growing. That one was ready though, ripe and round and I was going to slice it up and let the juice drip just everywhere. It obviously wasn’t that ideas are fruit, that’s a crap idea. You see? The one idea gone is of course the best one. The ones that are left, the ones I can find, they’re mediocre ideas. The bottom of the barrel, more or less. My brain is the barrel. They get grimy down there, bent out of shape. You see me getting dragged away by my words? It’s better when there’s a good idea at the reins. Otherwise it’s just plain nonsense I’m spouting, spilling over, and it’s puddling on the floor filling up the room and we’re drowning in it. A good idea is a boat. Or a scuba suit. Something like that. A good idea means that you don’t drown, you swim, and without a good idea I’m suffocating on nonsense, flailing and splashing and I hope to God nobody can hear me because this is absolutely completely ridiculous. If you’re still following along then good on you, I’d have stopped listening to me by now. Good grief.

Anyway, I guess without an idea to write about or talk about or to sing out as loud as I can, I’m going to stop mumbling and go do something mindless to drown out the nonsense. Maybe watch TV or play one of those games on the computers that makes the sparkly dinging noises when I win. Those are nice. Annoying, but nice. Maybe tomorrow I’ll find the idea. It’ll show up eventually, right? What happens when you lose an idea? Does it wither, die, turn into a brown shriveled rotten thing and cause an odd smell but you don’t know where it’s coming from? Does it just disappear, poof, until you can only sort of make out the space where it used to be? I guess I’ll find out, won’t I, I’ll see what happens to me without that one good idea. Maybe nothing at all will happen. Yeah, that’s it. Probably nothing.

The Life of a Storyteller

A story is a living thing. People sometimes don’t understand that. They don’t understand the way stories are born, that they grow up and grow old and die slowly or all at once. They have never been to my homeland and could never have seen stories breeding and multiplying. We watch this happen as if we could see destinies woven into strands of DNA, little cells that twist and twine into something new.

I was twelve years old when I got my first story. It was born during sentencing season when ideas are blooming and the stories are suddenly something from nothing. I named it – I can’t tell you the name now though – and I took it home with me. I fed it from a little bottle and I wrapped it in a blanket. I slept curled around it for weeks until it was too big to fit in my bed. It grew quickly, my story. It was from a common and vigorous breed, but I loved it as if it was new and like nothing told before.

Hardcover book gutter and pages

Most stories are old stories. Old breeds, rather. The strains of story have gone back generations, millennia. We recognize the shapes of their bodies. The curves and shines of their faces are familiar to us. We tell them again and again, in new forms. Some of these stories are old and tired, breeds that perhaps should have died out long ago. Most of them are well-loved, for all that.

My first story was one of these. Of course my parents would never have trusted twelve-year-old me with a rare breed. I didn’t care, though. I’d grown up in a family of tellers, and I told my story as if it were special. Children are often the best storytellers for that reason. That is, they love stories for themselves, however overtold they are. Children haven’t learned yet to scoff at the faded strains of story.

Stories are something like pets. They find tellers they like, and they hang around wagging their tales or brushing against legs until they are stroked into complaisance. Some people sort of collect stories, amassing all sorts of different kinds. Some people just tell the same story over and over again, or they trail a pack of stories that all look alike. I guess they find comfort in uniformity. Sometimes, if you look closely enough, you can see that stories have little notches or curves that make them distinct, despite their similar shapes. Sometimes, though, you look at a story bedecked and embellished to find that under all that it’s the same as the one next to it.

I guess the point is that you never really know. I raised my first story and told it out into the world, whispering it into an ear, sending it on its own to find its way. I’ve had countless stories since then. I’m a decent teller. It’s a lovely thing to watch, a story that gets to where it’s meant to be. They fill the world, like shadows, even when you can’t see them in the dark. They know when they’ve gotten to the right place. I like see them scamper or slink or swagger away from my window, where I sit with a couple of new tales and, perhaps, a book.

Writer’s Block

The idea was barely tickling the corners of her mind. Penny was searching, reaching, but it wasn’t there. She turned and grabbed, and it ducked away. When she lunged, it retreated, sucking itself into a corner where she couldn’t even see the shape of it. It would return and then again she could feel it, feel the long flat side and nubby corners, and she would lean – but as soon as she moved toward it, it just whisked out of sight again.

Penny had been reaching for the idea all day. She’d had it just that morning – held it in her hands, felt it curl around her neck and sprawl over her shoulders. The softness of it – but was it fuzzy or smooth? – had rubbed against her cheek, and the trailing thoughts had wrapped around her like a long furling tail. It had seemed so obvious. The warmth of it resting on her skin was so natural. She had assumed that she could turn, wash the dishes and fold the laundry. She’d even taken a quick trip to the grocery store.

writer's block - crushed and crumpled paper on...

Photo credit: photosteve101

The water had been so warm, bubbling over her hands, and she’d lost herself in the smell of dish detergent. Then in the softness of her favorite sweatshirt, and the flimsy lace that crumpled under her fingers. The taste of iron lingering in her mouth and the glare of flourescent lights. The shine of apples as she debated over fruit prices. The swinging flare of sound as the scanner passed over her purchases. The line on the road leading her home.

When she’d finished putting the groceries away, she remembered to look for the idea. She turned, whirled, bent and stretched, but it was gone. She hadn’t even noticed the weight lifting from her shoulders – though had it been heavy? Now she couldn’t remember. Sometime in the day it must have flickered away, slithered down her body and scurried across the floor. After half an hour of looking she gave up, sitting on the couch and putting down the useless notebook and pencil.

Just then Penny felt it, brushing at her elbow, and she turned. Her idea flashed across the floor like a frightened cat, curling resentfully against the wall and staring at her. It lost itself in shadow, so she could only strain to see the tip of it flapping against the floor. She turned away with a sigh, just to feel it slinking up to her again and pulling itself against her back. She reached for her pencil and it disappeared again, so she settled back against the couch. This was the time she recognized, the moment that foretold the rest of her night. She would do something else, distract herself, and spend the next few hours cringing the feel the touch of an idea she couldn’t hold.