Thursday, November 18, 2010


Sitting on my desk is a little, tin box, maybe five inches by eight inches, about two or a little more inches high, with forty-five rather than ninety-degree angled corners. The bottom of the box is clear tin, now slightly tarnished. Its sides are painted red. On the cover, is a painted tableau of a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman, sitting stiffly atop a statuesque to the point of looking stuffed, brown horse, on a promontory overlooking a wide, blue river, surrounded by a burgeoning pine forest, with the majestic Rocky Mountains in the distance.

Whew. Description makes me tired.

The little, tin box held no original contents during my tenure. No shortbread, no lithographed note cards, no sugar-dusted candies. If memory serves – and as I get older it quite often doesn’t – I discovered the box in some antique emporium in the Midwest, during one of our annual visits to Michiana. I was drawn to it, most likely, because of its evocative – to people of my national origin – Mountie tableau. And it was cheap.

I had no idea what I’d do with it, beyond adding it to my office crammed with accumulated chachkees our beleaguered and wonderful housekeeper Connie is obliged to dust.

Moving sideways…

Since starting this blog, I have taken to writing notes to myself on little scraps of paper – post-it notes and such – cryptic reminders of ideas that have flashed into my mind. With a self-imposed assignment of writing five posts a week, I can ill afford to let even a glimmer of an idea drift away. They are simply too valuable.

The ideas generally arrive while I’m doing other things. As a result, I have strategically positioned little note pads around the house. A thought pops into my head, I jot down the gist of it, and I set the notation on the stairs, to remind me to take it up to my office. The original idea invariably triggers elaborations, which I scribble down on separate pieces of paper, which I then add to the “reminders” already on the stairs.

It is not unusual for me, while watching a ballgame or a rerun of Law & Order, to continually bound up from my reclining position, scribble some notes, hopefully, though not always, legibly and then proceed to the stairs to deposit my latest addendum on top of the rapidly growing stack.

When Dr. M and I are out, I am constantly badgering her for a pen and paper, so I can stenographize my latest inspiration before it flies back where it came from. I never carry a pad of my own. That would be pretentious. Also, tempting the Fates.

The Fates: “Carrying a pad around, huh? No inspirations for him!”

Over the months stretching into years, my desk became the designated receptacle for accumulated post ideas, a mountain of tiny slips of paper, sitting unsteadily on my desk, “unsteadily” meaning the stack kept falling over, the slips of paper fluttering to the floor. One day, my daughter Anna, artistic yet practical, insisted I get more respectably organized. I listen to my daughter.

I rewrote my collected post ideas on a set of three-by-five cards, and I stored them

In my little, tin box.

You see how it all comes together?

Today, that little, tin box is so crammed full, the cover keeps popping off. It is literally overflowing with ideas. Exactly how many ideas? I have never counted.

Now, I would say that eighty-three to eighty-four per cent of the time – don’t hold me to that number, but it’s close – the decision concerning what my next post idea will be generates from the tension of immediate excitement. A new idea pops into my head, and an “Inner Voice” says to me, “Forget the accumulated ideas. That one is tomorrow’s post!” And I dutifully comply. As with my daughter, I invariably obey my “Inner Voice.”

You may not believe this, but I have never written a post that I wasn’t excited about. The ideas that come to me seem right, at least at the time, I can’t wait to see where they take me. There were very few post ideas I abandoned before starting. And none I can think of that I quit on in the middle.

Having acknowledged that over eighty per cent of my blog posts are of the “think – write” variety, I must admit to days when I’m, I don’t want to say floundering, it sounds too desperate, let’s say there are occasions when my mind is momentarily uncluttered by an idea.

At that point of mental unclutteredness, my thoughts inevitably turn to my little, tin box.

But not my fingers. Not quite yet.

At such moments, I am reminded of a memorable scene from maybe the only romantic movie I ever liked, entitled, Two For The Road.

Two For The Road, starring Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn, interweaves a series of holidays in the south of France, which occurred at significant junctures in the couple’s relationship, over twenty or so years. It’s a wonderful movie. Funny and smart.

And romantic.

During an episode involving their penniless days, the couple, hitchhiking in the country, is picked up by this fussy couple traveling with their horrible little boy. At some point, the Monster Child yanks the keys out of the ignition, and tosses them out the window into a field, where some tall stuff is growing.

The couples get out and start looking for the keys, and they can’t find them. The Albert Finney character asks the man, who’s the driver, if he has a spare set of keys. The fussy man, played by William Daniels, who played fussy men his entire career, replies,

“If we use the ‘spare’, then we won’t have a ‘spare.’”

Call me fussy, but that’s how I feel about the contents of my little, tin box.

This morning, I was “this close” to reaching for an idea.

But I wrote this instead.

I still have the “spare.”


PG said...

Mine Too!!!
'Two for the Road' is one of my favorite movies of all time and not just because Audrey gets to change her hairstyles and outfits so often (to match the decades).
However, in the interests of historical record, I must correct your enthusiastic but fading memory on a couple of details.
First of all, the dreadful couple. Our heroes are not picked up by them in their penniless days at all. In the early years of their marriage, Mark and Joanna have arranged a motor tour of France with this pair from hell ON PURPOSE! She, one Kathy Maxwell-Manchester, played deliciously by Elinor Bron (of Britain's famed 'The Establishment' and later, the funniest and cleverest comedy ever, the original 'Bedazzled' with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore) is an old girlfriend of Albert Finney's from his days in America. Her husband, played by William Daniels (say no more) not only drives the rental car but also drives everyone crazy with his amateur psychological analysis of every behavior and his insistence on rules and schedules.
Secondly, the child is a little girl, so spoiled and obnoxious, that Mark and Joannah decide they will never have any children of their own (so you know they are already married but don't yet have their own child, who turns up in a later trip, insisting that her daddy make duck sounds).
And finally, the couple are picked up on the next trip they take in their own car, a tiny MG, which catches on fire. They are then picked up by a very wealthy French couple who eventually hire Mark (Finney) to design a beach house for them on the Riviera, monopolizing him so much that Joannah (Audrey) goes off and has a fling with the woman's cousin, David.
As you can tell, I have seen this movie many times. In fact, I think I'll watch it again tonite.
Beats anything on TV!

Steve Skinner said...

I maintain an ideas file too but seldom use it; maybe I should rename it the "compost file"!