Friday, May 25, 2012


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. A couple of years ago I was on the el late at night, heading southbound returning from a writers’ meeting. Chicago’s els have various “lines”, the Red and Brown serving the north side of the city. While each line has its own stations, the larger serve both lines to facilitate transfer from one line to the other. Most Red line stations are located on "islands" with northbound trains stopping on one side of the island and southbound trains on the other. Brown line trains are more or less “feeders” to the Red line, and those stops it does not share with the Red Line have separate platforms on either side of the tracks--northbound on one side 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. I couldn't even remember, by looking at the surrounding buildings, which side of the tracks they were on. Even when a Red Line train passed by in the direction from which I had come, 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 pulled up to the platform, clearly marked “Loop”--which meant it was southbound 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.

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to check out his website ( and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs ( ).

1 comment:

Kage Alan said...

This is the first time I've read that someone else has drawn blanks when introducing people before. It even happened to me at college and I have zero idea why. Having this happen totally used to freak me out.

Now I'm wondering if it's just a writer thing. Could writers be afflicted with this, thereby making it completely normal?