I sometimes think of my head as a large, unfinished attic with two windows through which I look out at the world. When it came to the wiring of the attic, however, the electrician(s) must have been in a hurry to move on to a more important job. Rather than neatly color-coding each wire and making sure that each went from point A directly to point B, they apparently left hundreds of exposed live electric wires just dangling from the ceiling, so that when the breeze of thought stirs them, they brush against one another randomly, effectively short-circuiting any attempt at linear thinking.
The breeze that comes with music must be especially strong, since it almost always sends me off in random and totally unrelated (on the surface, at any rate) directions.
Yesterday I heard music from one of the great documentary TV series of the early 50s,Victory at Sea, composed by Richard Rogers, and when the main theme came along, I was instantly transported to August of 1953 and to Broadway’s Majestic Theater. It was my first trip to New York, and the first Broadway show I ever saw…Rogers and Hammerstein’s Me and Juliet. The one hit song from that show was “No Other Love,” which was taken note for note from the Victory at Sea main theme.
But once a short-circuit has begun, it tends to set off a string of other sparkings, as this one did. Another song from Me and Juliet was “Keep it Gay” (a song by the same title was used in the more recent Mel Brooks movie, The Producers). I was 19 years old, gay, and in New York on my own for the very first time. Not knowing exactly where to go to find other gays, I went down to Washington Square in the Village, and remember standing in front of the New York Public Library whistling “Keep it Gay,” in hopes that someone might get the message. No one did, alas.
So now we’re short-circuiting on New York/gay memories, and sparking to 1960 when my mom and I went to New York…her first time. I’ve probably mentioned these two memories before, since I tend to repeat my favorite stories. Anyway, we saw The Sound of Music the night Oscar Hammerstein died, and all of Broadway dimmed its lights in tribute.
For some unknown reason, whenever I was with my mom and unable to do anything about it, I would find myself being cruised by guys I’d have given anything to be able to respond to. I remember we were at the top of the Empire State Building and a really nice looking young man took an interest in me. Utterly frustrating, but I couldn’t very well say: “Wait here, Mom, I’ll be back in a couple of hours.”
When it comes to my writing, my mind’s odd wiring has taught me never to try to plot things out too far in advance. I’ve become rather adept, I hope, at making use of these little electrical “pffffffftzzzzzzzzzz” reactions in my writing. (Well, this blog is a perfect example, obviously.) The best I can do is, when I start a book, to do a stick-figure drawing of the plot, and perhaps, at the very beginning, point to a spot on the horizon and say “let’s try to end up over there.” Writers who can and do draw intricate treasure maps of their books before they ever start writing (“three paces due north from this specific event, turn SSE and go exactly six paces to something else specific,” etc.) is fine for them, but I cannot comprehend how they do it, or why they would want to tie themselves down so securely. Part of the fun of writing, for me, is never knowing what comes next. It’s all up to the dangling wires.
This blog is from Dorien's ebook of blogs, Short Circuits, available from UntreedReads and Amazon; it's also available as an audio book from Amazon/Audible.com: