Thursday, September 22, 2011

The Power Must Go Through

The Power Must Go Through, 2011

Thousands of words fell from my mind through my hands to paper and keyboard yesterday, leaving little room for free thought. Most of the writing was professional in nature, research reports and memos. I’ve been at it long enough that this kind of writing comes pretty quickly.
It was a more general essay that I’ve been working on for a while that was stumping me. The essay’s about an important issue facing the area where I live. The subject isn’t important here, only that after having written and re-written this piece many times over the last few months, I realized today that the problem with it was that I have no idea where I am headed with it.
This is a perfect case of the Cheshire Cat syndrome, by which I mean, to paraphrase the Cheshire Cat in Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland, “If you don’t know where you’re going, all roads will lead you there.” In the case of my essay, it’s one thing to identify and document an issue. But it’s a waste of people’s time if I don’t also offer a solution. 
The good thing is that while clients are waiting for the research reports, nobody’s sitting around waiting for this essay. So I can put it down yet again and come back later when my thoughts are more articulate.
A friend of mine who studies how the mind works has a technique he calls the “subconscious hit list.” If you’ve taken any kind of creative thinking class you’ve probably done a variation on this technique. The premise is that you write down on an index card the fragment of an idea, a subject or a thought that is puzzling you. (Taking the action of physically writing down the words plants the idea in your mind.) Then you stick the card in your pocket and forget about it while you go off and work on something else. Theoretically, at least, when you come back to the index card later in the day you will have resolved the idea.
There’s no hocus pocus or psychic power involved here. Rather, you’re just taking advantage of the brains’ ability to multi-task at verbal and non-verbal levels or, put more simply, you’re using the mind’s capacity to work on things even when you think it’s not. 
The index card idea doesn’t work for me. But I am one of those people who is usually surrounded by lots of little scraps of paper on which are scribbled scraps of thoughts or just a word or two. I look upon this landscape of paper as my idea farm. Some of the scraps grow. Others fail to thrive and end up in the trash.
When this method works, I’ll find myself interrupting other work I’m doing to add words to these scraps or tape other scraps of paper to the original scraps. Before long, there’ll be a fairly well developed outline of something. 
The picture above demonstrates a very common situation where I live. Developers and homeowners plant tress right under power and telephone lines. Eventually the tress grow into the lines and have to be trimmed. I look upon some writing and photography as being like growing a beautiful tree.  But even if the creative output becomes a beautiful tree of words or visual images, sometimes you’ve just got to blow a big hole in the middle of the whole thing because ultimately the power’s got to get through.


  1. What a great post, and the image is perfection.

  2. I realize that this post is not necessarily about trees, but I get so irritated when I see people plant trees that will eventually get large under power lines. Don't they think. One of the biggest commercial nurseries in Norfolk, owned by a city councilman, planted a whole row of Willow Oaks under power lines at a new apartment development near ODU. They should know better.