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

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