The hardest lesson I learned this week is to hit save. I lost a few paragraphs and felt as if my arms were below the ice line on a frozen lake. In the old days, meaning pen and paper processing, saving a piece meant remembering which desk, which notebook, which pile of paper held the last line. It’s a simple thing to hit the right button, to scroll to the bar that says yes posterity has a chance to see this, but plugging the portable into the charger is the weakest link in my personal chain of commands. Screen goes black, mind sees red, vocabulary ensues. My co-horts tried to console me with the insight that my writing is usually so full of awful puns that the technological hiccup was just protecting us all from severe eye roll strain. Fair enough, a day later I’m carefully backing myself out of the cornered animal position. I’m thinking ahead. I’m planning. I’m practicing. Some real writing may come of this, but for right now I’m petitioning, doing penance, pleading for that lost thought to come circling around my head like Tweety Bird and give me something to stuff my suffering succotash.
One trick is as good as another if it works. Something that helps me to access the ‘forgotten files’ is an alphabet game of stringing together sounds of each vowel with the consonants like a safe cracker tumbling for the combination. Ba-Ca-Da-Fa, or Ge-He, or Li-Mi-, Jo, etc. I’m not sure the technique has any merit beyond involving my subconscious in a very random search, but every TV detective worth his overcoat knows how to dramatically scan the room after announcing, “I’ll know it when I find it!” Word sleuthing is a major tributary of word smithing. Trickling down to overflow is often a result of pulling our thumb out of, well, let’s just say the dam. Poetry, like that other thing, seeks it’s own level and it will seep through the cracks. We’re allowed to push, but not rush the flow.
An oddity of unsticking the misplaced memory is placing it in a different genre`. Lou Reed, hardly a choir boy at any stage of his career, wrote a tender, sweet, halcyon aria to Jesus in his hell raising pre-punk marvel days with The Velvet Underground. One particular line floats as effortlessly as the great Halleluiah song of Leonard Cohen. “Jesus, help me in my weakness, for I’ve fallen out of grace.” It surprised him as much as everybody in his subterranean homesick world and may have been seminal in his eventual recovery from drugs and alcohol. (That’s conjecture on my part. The song definitely helped me on my path to sobriety so maybe it’s enough to just leave it at that.) The point is singing a blues to ourselves in the night, or stacking a series of rhymes to a beat, may help unlock the essay, the blog, the poem that’s closeted with the winter coats. Admitting we play air guitar in our bedroom is one thing, putting lyrics to the riffs can help us make sense of the busy signal on our direct dial to inspiration.
When we get new songs to sing it doesn’t mean we abandon or shelve any longer running projects. I’m not convinced writing one thing at a time is always the best way, or the only way, to proceed. Doris Lessing highlighted The Golden Notebook, but she wrote in several other colors simultaneously. My suggestion is to mix it up. How many hats can we wear at once? Children’s author, columnist, lyricist, travel guide, there’s room for error, room to improve, and a room with a view behind the next phrase in the phase of development. The important thing is not as important as the next thing, but the most important thing, is to hit save.