Losing the idea

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, March 18, 2014 12:17 AM

It occurs to me that I haven’t had a good idea in a long time. This is quite disturbing to me. I used to have ideas all the time and while not all of them were good, many of them had potential to develop into something decent. They would simply appear to me, these ideas. I would be sitting on the back of the motorcycle as we zoomed through the back canyons in the sunshine and I would have an idea for a short story. Another time, I had an idea for a novel. I’ve written neither but the ideas are good, they’re sound, and I have extensive notes.

I would wake up sometimes and have to reach for a pen and paper because I had an idea. Sometimes before I went to bed I would do the same, have an idea and scribble it down before sleep. Lately it seems that I lie in bed and do things like stare at the ceiling fan as it spins lazily. No ideas are presenting themselves and if I try too hard to have an idea, I feel as if I might rupture something. Maybe the fan is taking my ideas and lazily spinning them out into the ether where someone else will have them.

It scares me, this lack of good ideas. Not scares me in an I-better-get-a-gun-in-order-to-protect-myself kind of way; more in the holy-crap-what-happens-if-I-never-get-another-idea-then-what kind of way.

I voiced this concern to Bobbi today. I felt stupid as I typed the words. I feel stupid now. I’m in an idea rut, I’ve lost the idea, I said. What do I do? Naturally, she didn’t have an answer, nor did I expect her to. I think I just needed to vocalize my idea deficit in order to make it real because if it’s real then maybe I have a chance of turning the deficit into a surplus.

Years ago when I watched The West Wing, Sam Seaborn and Toby Ziegler, played by Rob Lowe and Richard Schiff respectively and scripted by Aaron Sorkin, discussed how they felt they had lost their talent. It was during the first season of the show, in an episode entitled Enemies. In it, Leo gives his daughter Mallory tickets to the Chinese opera and Mallory promptly asks Sam to accompany her which leads Leo to give Sam the assignment of writing a birthday message for someone. There is this exchange between Toby and Sam:

Toby: All right… It couldn’t have gone far, right?
Sam: No.Toby: Somewhere in this building… is our talent.
Sam: Yes. 

They’re obsessed with writing this message and it’s not coming out as lyrically as they’d like. I get it. There are many times when I write something and I know it’s fine. It’s just not great; it doesn’t sing. I think what Sam and Toby had really lost was the idea. The talent was there. If you have it, it’s always there. But without a means to express it, without the idea, it too seems lost.

My stream of ideas has become more of a trickle. Maybe it’s because we’re experiencing such a horrendous drought out here in the west. Maybe if we get some more rain my ideas will begin to bloom again.

I know this is all just temporary and that it happens to all writers, artists, musicians. A dry spell; that’s all it is. Bobbi thought maybe it was because I saw Alice Hoffman this weekend. Maybe. It makes sense when you see someone you so admire, someone who does what you do and so much better, that you suddenly feel inadequate. The problem is that I started feeling this way long before this past weekend.  

How is this good? Why am I writing about it on a blog that shouts “celebrate something?” I suppose it’s because it gives me an opportunity to think differently, to try harder, to strive for better. And that’s always something to celebrate because all three – thinking differently, trying harder, striving to be better – have to lead to something new, toward somewhere I haven’t been before, preferably to the ideas I have somehow lost in the last few months. We’ll see, but I’m open to having those ideas back, if the ideas are open to coming back. If they are, I’ll be living it out loud again soon. 

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live out loud

The talent of obsessing

by Lorin Michel Thursday, July 28, 2011 9:00 PM

It’s always interesting to me when people write about the creative process. I’ve never been entirely sure that you can write about something like that. How do you qualify it? It’s like knowing where ideas come from. I read a book years and years ago that talked about how easy it was to discover the creativity that’s buried deep inside each one of us. I don’t remember it specifically discussing talent, as if talent was incidental or assumed; as if being creative was what produced talent. The book was called Dancing Corn Dogs in the Night. It was written by movie producer Don Hahn, and it listed some of the forces that drive creativity, namely balance, chaos, persistence and truth. I think he also threw in chocolate and coffee. To the list, I’d add obsession.

There is something about the creative process that nurtures and feeds obsession. If you paint, you must paint. If you draw, you must hold pencils. If you make music, you must always be composing. If you write, everything is a story, a possibility, a potential scene, a headline, an intoxicating sentence that channels Dostoyevsky, transporting the reader.

Obsession has somehow become a bad word, and in the case of Calvin Klein, an over-powering fragrance, but I don’t think it is a bad word. I think it’s a word about focus, about drive, about the relentless pursuit to make the world better through the creative process.

A word cloud of the next paragraph

The dictionary defines obsession as the domination of one’s thoughts or feelings by a persistent idea, image or desire. The word’s origins, dating to around 1510, are from the Latin obsessionem, meaning a blockade or siege. It was also discussed as the hostile action of an evil spirit, rather like possession but without the body and soul invasion. That’s pretty much right on. When I’m obsessed with something, it takes over my entire being. It’s all I can think of, all I want to do. I get that way about writing, but not enough. Because it scares me. Not the obsession, but the act of writing. And yet I do it everyday. Still, to be obsessed is to open myself up, to unzip the tight emotions and influences and thoughts and ideas and let them out to play. They race from my head, down my arm, through my fingers and out onto the keys of my keyboard where they miraculously appear on a word document. But putting them out there, allowing their early release from the prison of my imagination, sets me up for failure. It puts me out there for judgment.

I believe that’s why so many people don’t pursue their creativity and don’t channel their talent. It’s scary to put yourself out there in the world for review because what if the reviews are bad? And they will be, because I’m not good enough for them to be good. And what if they are good? Then I’d be terrified that I have only one good thing in me and then what if more is expected? What if I really do have talent? What if I really don’t?

This is also obsession. The need to obsess about the possibilities while obsessing about the realities, and then wondering which is which and what is what.

No wonder so many of history’s most creative souls were insane.

I have heard that the way through this is to simply do it, which for someone who’s obsessed is actually easy. I’m terrified to write so I write every day. I write while I sleep. I write because I have no choice. I keep a pad of paper and a lighted pen on the table next to my side of the bed in case I have an idea that absolutely must be written down before it escapes my mind and through the tips of my fingers because that’s it’s usual path, and if there’s nothing at the end of my fingers to catch it, where will it go? And if it leaves, maybe that was The One.

So I obsess. I believe that anyone who dreams obsesses, anyone who possesses the myth of talent obsesses because maybe that talent is real. Oh. My. God.

And maybe it is a myth after all.

So I obsess some more, and I write for myself and I read it myself and then every day I let a little tiny bit out into the world to have others read it, and then I obsess about what they think. But having an audience of only one can be lonely. Creativity should be shared, celebrated. As should the talent of obsessing. 

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live out loud

The keys to

by Lorin Michel Tuesday, July 26, 2011 8:24 PM

I find keys fascinating. They have such incredible shapes, mostly round and inviting at the top and then jagged and craggy toward the ends. They’re sort of like people that way. We all start out as rolly babies, squirming and soft, full of rounded angles and curves, and then we become adults. Our heads stay round but everything else becomes sharp edges, especially our personalities. I blame curiosity. If we weren’t hopelessly curious about everything from why the sky is blue to how come Brussel sprouts make your mouth squinch up to if there’s a heaven, we wouldn’t find things out and we could stay hopelessly naïve and round. In other words, not keyed in.

In so many ways, the key to how we live can be found in the keys we carry. Kevin and I have a key rack in the shape of a motorcycle mounted just outside the garage door.  It has five hooks on it, all holding single keys on appropriate key chains. There is one for the car, one for the truck, one for the motorcycle; one with the house key and one with the key to Kevin’s studio. We don’t have a lot of locked up ideals in our lives.

Single keys work to lock something up or to unlock something else. But they are really the keys to release. Keys to the city give the recipient special access to something entirely nebulous but it sure sounds important. The keys to success seemingly provide a solution to what had otherwise seemed unattainable. I think I’ve had my hands on those keys a time or two. Sometimes they’ve fit into the keyhole; sometimes not.

The keys to my heart were first given away a long time ago, when I was in high school. I was a junior and his name was Jeff Peterson. He played football; I don’t remember what position. He had been dating a friend of mine but they broke up right around the time I broke up with my boyfriend. We commiserated, spending countless afternoons after school, hanging around the lockers. Before I knew it we were dating, and I was hopelessly in love. I don’t remember when but somehow I got the keys back and locked up my heart again until Tim, my first husband. I picked him up hitchhiking, and fell stupidly in love, but I was 18. What did I know about love? By the time I took those keys back, I was in my early 30s, though if I’m being honest, I took them back much earlier than that.

Then came my favorite husband, my beloved Kevin. I gave him the keys and I don’t want them back.

Keys, like just about everything else in history, probably originated in Egypt. Clay tablets from ancient Babylonia, some 4000 years ago, depict key-like structures, probably made of wood or stone. Then the Greeks stepped in and began using keys to lock and unlock temples, with women usually carrying large, angular bronze keys on one shoulder. Homer even speaks of the key to Odysseus’s storeroom in his literary masterpiece The Odyssey. Roman keys were technically more proficient, with finesse and elegance, becoming status symbols for those who had something to protect. They also invented the finger key, worn and used by women to lock and unlock jewelry boxes. During the 6th thru 9th centuries, Merovingian keys and Carolingian keys, shaped like religious symbols were in vogue. Keys have been a symbol of power in the United States since William Penn, the English real estate entrepreneur and eventual founder of Pennsylvania, arrived in Delaware in 1682. By this time and to this day, keys were made of various forms of metal.

There are master keys, control keys, transponder keys, double-sided and four-sided keys, paracentric keys, internal cut, Abloy, Dimple, Skeleton, Tubular and Zeiss keys, DO NOT DUPLICATE keys, restricted keys, magnetic keys and Alicia Keys. There’s also the very popular keycard, the keyboard, and the Francis Scott Key key used in a West Wing episode.


Here’s the thing about keys, they can often be used to keep people out and lock things up. But I like to think they also open doors and unlock new possibilities. Step inside and find what you may. Perhaps a treasure, perhaps just another door, and always a way forward. That’s the key to my future. What’s the key to yours?

The first Monday in April

by Lorin Michel Monday, April 4, 2011 10:32 PM

So it’s Monday. Some people say it’s the first day of the week, others say that Sunday holds that honor. In some ways, it’s both. The Romans named the days of the week after the seven planets of classical astronomy and numbered them beginning with Sunday. Slavic languages used a different numbering system and began with Monday. Many cultures now actually use both, with Sunday the honored day of rest and Monday representing the first day of the workweek.

I actually like Monday because it means the week is full of opportunity and possibility. Imagine what can be accomplished with a brand new, shiny week. Five days that are blank slates, waiting to be filled, wanting to be created as individual works of art. Days that can become historic, exciting, the best days of our lives. Like today, for instance. It was a nice slow start. Emails but no phone calls. Lots of work but no intrusions. And the ideas were rushing forward and forcing themselves through my fingers onto word documents.

It wasn’t as painful as it sounds.

I started notes on some ideas I’ve had for a trio of books. I always have too many projects going at once but I know that if I keep moving forward, through every Monday, that things will happen. I know that dreams are born on first Mondays; they become realities on subsequent Mondays.

And so it’s the first Monday in April and I’m cruising toward, well, the second Monday, and then the third. And then it will be May and a trip to Tucson to visit our kid and our property. Then the Mondays will roll into summer and fall, then into winter. Hopefully all my ideas and dreams will roll with them toward prosperity and hope.

Mondays are a way of keeping track of our lives, not just our calendars. They come and most aren’t happy about it, if only because it usually means work. But work is good. Work allows us to make money, to live our lives, to plan our futures. Mondays are a new beginning every week, a chance to do something we haven't done before, to focus on something different, to celebrate the idea of what could happen if only we believe.

I believe that today is something to celebrate, that it represents opportunity and possibility. That it’s only the beginning of what could be, that I can make of it what I will. And that’s celebratory.

What will you make of this Monday? What will you make of next? 

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live out loud

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