The Write Brain Initiative: Wrong words stir up a storm

Oklahoma! -- Photo: Wikimedia Commons/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration


The worst thing about Writer Brain is that it’s silent but deadly.

It wildly carries on in my head without anyone knowing it and then embarrassingly erupts at odd moments when I least expect it. The real problem? It’s not always quiet.

“I’m sorry,” I’ll murmur. But it’s too late. It’s out. And everyone heard it.

This happened to me at a very civilized dinner party of eight. This wasn’t during the unruly cocktail time when I could cough and hide in the folds of a curtain and hope the errant noise was covered by polite chatter and crunchy hors d’oeuvres. This happened while everyone was sitting thigh to elbow around the table and pleasantly eating salad and halibut.

I had been working for weeks on a gangly and lengthy poem that stretched well beyond the reaches of my imagination. It had started in a flash of brilliant clarity that was so pinpoint-exact that of course I could never find it again. Trying to describe it led me on an epic search from which I might never return. I wrote verse after sprawling verse.

The first flash did not coincide with unfettered writing time. So I tucked it away to get back to it. But when I was ready for it, it wasn’t there. I looked in my drawers. My pockets. My every hidden recess.

I thought about it in the shower. On the bus. I looked for it day after day. Then one afternoon while I was walking across a downtown street, a clutch of dry crackly leaves fluttered and caught my eye. It twirled in a mini-tornado and danced across the asphalt, sustained in the air for an ungodly long time and then reappearing. I stopped mid-street and watched. That was almost what I was looking for.

I started writing about motion. It turned into Chapter 2:

I see things
like the swirl of leaves in the street
a mini cyclone
taut and blustery
like a spring
an endless line of motion
going up
and going down
forming a hellacious gauze curtain
separating mute wonder outside
from the calm center.

A ragged V
spiral cone
going gone
skip touches
to tag the street
and then unwinds
to simple wind.

Blown clear.
But a breeze.

Gathering again
dirt dust
like twine
on a spinning wheel
spread thin
between fingers fine.

Breeze gives way
to breath
in ever arcing air.

More specifically, I started writing about how the movement of one thing affects another thing. Then, as if that wasn’t abstract enough, I started to explore the geometry of motion. Endlessly I could see shapes. Everything moved and danced and took on common mathematical forms in my head. I couldn’t make it stop. Rhythms ran in parallels and spirals and ringlets and orbits. They ran in torrents. I typed while my family chatted around me, hearing nothing.

What was this stuff? I hadn’t planned to go looking for anything. Physics. Geometry. These were not my strongest subjects. Philosophy. Astronomy. Weird.

Trains. Planets. Oceans. Pools of the calmest waters. And saliva.

I didn’t know what this was, but I didn’t care. It was bizarre abstract stuff, and I didn’t care about that either. I was writing the hell out of it. My head was on a completely different plane and I had no idea what the flight plan was. I went everywhere with these odd thoughts tumbling through my head. I was after those elusive movements and shapes and the most basic sensory level I could find. I was after that brilliant moment of clarity, and I had left the planet to find it.

But one peaceful dinner party brought it all home.

We were chatting agreeably about memorization. An actor/director sitting across the table was lamenting about how it was more difficult for him to memorize lines as he got older. We were talking about the different ways people take in information and retain it. We were talking about acting and the irony of having to artificially rehearse something over and over until it was so ingrained it became utterly natural.

And in the midst of all this, my Writer Brain totally betrayed me. A shape appeared. It was like a beautiful soft ripe peach dangling before me on a tree. I reached for it.

I could see the beginnings of a gorgeous Golden Ratio, the very first important steps of a spiral pattern, the very essence of nature itself. None of these people knew I had been spending weeks tossing around tornadoes and interplanetary embraces.

All they knew was that right then I had a fork full of lettuce and out of my mouth came, “Isn’t it interesting how we have to take information in and then down before it can come out again?”

Silence. Everything stopped. No more easy-going back and forth. We all looked down at the table. I wasn’t sure whether it was thoughtfulness or embarrassment. It was one of those moments that seemingly stretched into the next moon phase, and I thought, “OK, that was either sort of interesting or completely stupid.” It was out and I couldn’t take it back.

Quickly, as if to cover up a bad noise, I could only think to say: “Um, could you please pass me the bread?”

— Laura Grimes