Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Mental Blanks

My mind has a tendency to go blank at the most inappropriate times. (And an "appropriate" time would be...?) Usually it happens when I most desperately need it not to go blank…like when introducing two people, each of whom I have known for years, and suddenly can't remember one, or often either, of their names.

The most current example was about five minutes ago, when I realized I needed a topic for this blog entry. One minute my mind is like a whale swimming through thoughts as thick as an ocean full of krill, and the next It’s like looking for a lemonade stand in the desert. (Aha! How about a nice blog on non sequiturs and mixed metaphors?)

When I’m writing a book, one or two blanks are almost guaranteed, but I usually get over them by going back a chapter or two into the manuscript and reading my way forward to where the blank occurred. It’s rather like a car trying to get up a slippery hill…back up, shift it into first, and gun the engine. (Hmmm…about those metaphors….)

Blanks are always a source of frustration, but on very rare occasions they can also be terrifying. I've only had one such instance, but it was more than enough. About a year ago I was on the el late at night, returning from a writers’ meeting. Chicago’s els have various “lines”, the Red and Brown serving the north side of the city. Each line has its own statioins. The Red line is the main line, and all its stations are located in the center of the tracks with northbound trains stopping on one side of the platform and southbound trains on the other. Brown line trains are more or less “feeders” to the Red line, and have two platforms, northbound on one side of the tracks and southbound on the other.

I was on a southbound Brown Line train and somehow got off one stop short of the one I wanted. I had reached the bottom of the stairs before I realized my mistake. I immediately turned around and went back up the same set of stairs to the platform. But when I reached the platform and looked across the tracks at the other platform, my mind drew a total blank. I was absolutely positive that I somehow had crossed from the southbound to the northbound platforms. I stood there totally confused, and my confusion quickly turned to panic. Even when a Red Line train passed by and I clearly saw it said “Dan Ryan”, which I knew meant it was southbound, I still was sure I was on the northbound platform.

It was one of the most terrifying experiences I have ever had, and I realized just how horrifying memory loss has to be for those with Alzheimer’s.

A Brown Line finally came by, clearly marked “Loop” and I got on. I hope I never have an experience like that again.

And so, children, you see what I do when my mind draws a blank when it comes to what I can possibly write about for the next blog. I just start writing about whales and krill and lemonade stands in the desert, gun my engine, and charge up the hill.

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