Issue 7: Accident vs. Design
A Publication of the USF MFA in Writing Program


A Lifted Idea

Jim Nelson


     10 August      

     An idea for a story came to him one night in bed. He found his feet and found the light switch and a pen. Then it was gone. His idea had disappeared. It was a substantial idea, not merely a good opening or a sweet line of dialogue. It arced from start to finish. It had weight and girth. Then it grew legs and walked off, and all that remained were clumps and shards of the idea, the flavor of cookie batter on a mixing spoon but no cookies to be found.

 

*

     26 August      

     Two weeks later, he spent a Saturday afternoon walking the library's stacks of philosophy books. His eyes darted at names—Wittgenstein, Carnap—until he found one to unshelve and peruse. The flood of rhetoric and abstractions washed over the aches of daily life, like drinking to forget. He'd written less than a page since the night he'd lost his idea. Writing had come to terrify him now. Stories and novels reminded him of his deficiency. High academia was his bottle to draw from.

     He found a book by Czlezov, On Past and Experimental Selves. It argued for reentering one's past mind and reliving experiences and states of consciousness. Czlezov proposed a method as straightforward as baking cookies.

     Shards of the lost story idea lay scattered in his mind, enough pieces for the edges of the jigsaw puzzle but nothing for the center. He knew the story regarded memory and rediscovery. It revisited a crucial moment in the main character's past life. That moment had slipped away. The loss of this inspiration caused a nostalgia in him, a tuning fork rung once and the harmonic overtone refusing to decay.

     He read and reread Czlezov's recipe until it was warmly familiar. He closed his eyes, let his shoulders and arms go limp, and breathed purposefully. He shut out the ambient noise in the library, the crinkling of folding newspaper and the mouse squeaks of a book cart pushed past. His consciousness did loosen. It slithered down the library staircase and to the nighttime in his apartment, and then it coiled around his bed from two weeks earlier.

 

*

     10 August      

     Light as a draft slipping under a window cracked open, the foreign presence of his future consciousness tingles his past body and awakens him. His feet slap hardwood and his hand paws the light switch. The lamp blinds him and the stun shakes the idea loose. Soon it'll slip free from the bank and dissolve into the stream. But his future self has it now and he wrests it away. His future self gathers all of it up, even the shards and clumps left hanging on the bank. He is greedy. He leaves nothing behind for his past self. He tucks the idea under his armpit, puts a finger over his lips, and sneaks off with the inspiration he'll use to write the story he'd all but forgotten.

 

*

     10 August     

     An idea for a story came to him one night in bed. He found his feet and found the light switch and a pen. Then it was gone. His idea had disappeared. It grew legs and walked off without the courtesy to leave behind a shard or a clump as a memento. He chalked it up as a dream. It was the fantasy of having worthy language and facing the reality of lacking meaning and substance. It was eating your mother's Toll House cookie batter when you were six and not remembering the taste or even the feel of it on your tongue.

Copyright © 2008 Switchback
All works property of their respective owners