Wool Gathering and Old Lace

Sallie Satterthwaite's picture

In some cases, wool-gathering at the wheel may be as dangerous as driving under the influence. Dangerous in more ways than one. Having neither dictionary nor tape recorder in the car, I sometimes have to pound thoughts in through my forehead, saying, “Remember this, remember!”

You get some funny looks when you do that, but writers are infamous for writer’s block, and society should allow them to take whatever means necessary to grab and hold on to Pulitzer dust when it wafts by.

Another option is to try to explain to your nearest neighbor-car on the Interstate what you’re doing and why. Just that alone sounds like a wreck on the way to happen.

Obviously one cannot be typing into one’s laptop while steering at 70 mph. If I can just type a few words, sometimes that’s enough to light a fire and not lose it until I have a moment to do Ctrl-S. Then I may be able to kindle a fire later.

Another remembering modus operandi is to write myself notes. Sounds like a husband technique, doesn’t it? The problem is that you now have a tangible item to look for and it bears a strong resemblance to a lacy scrap of an envelope or a lunch napkin or the back of a deposit slip. It’s very, very ordinary and easily mistaken for waste.

Nearly as frustrating is remembering whether I’ve already used my notes and published a column using them. My ancient Microsoft word processor has a less-than-satisfactory search engine. It suits me for 99 percent of what I use it for, but just try to identify and lift one or two sentences common to several columns.

Oy, vey! my friend Susan would swoon.

Look at these stats, and you’ll understand why finding a specific file out of several hundred becomes overwhelming.

The column began to be published fairly regularly in 1979 and very regularly from about 1984 to the present, 2009. That’s 30 years, isn’t it? Gad. I impress myself.

Thirty years, times 50 columns a year (allowing for “fairly regularly”), looks like 1,500 of ’em. I’m not sure how many more or fewer were typed on paper and hand-carried to Fayetteville.

I was so grateful when it became possible to send columns through thin air in the comfort of my home office.

I wrote suggestions several weeks ago about how that tedious sound wall on Ga. Highway 74 South could be turned into something nice.

My first idea was to plant vines and sprawling vegetation on the highway side of the wall. It may take awhile, but under the TLC of the Master Gardeners the blank surface could soon be attractive. Surely some local businesses would donate to such a beautiful façade.

Then the thought rose to my concern that it will take too long for the plants to look like much. An epiphany: Find an artists’ group willing to paint vegetation directly on the wall. By about the time the painted posies were through decorating the wall, the valid vines would be ready to take over.

Last week, another epiphany. It was late afternoon and I was driving north on SR74 on my way to my work-out when I saw something that took my breath away. For as far as I could see, the wall was gracefully draped with vines and young trees, at least eight to 12 feet high, fitting the expanse of concrete wall perfectly.

How could this possibly be, just a few weeks after I wrote about the idea?

I had to turn left on Kelly Drive, watching traffic, and lost sight of the miracle. But, for once, recognition popped into my head without benefit of forehead pounding.

The “miracle”? Shadows. The trees on the left side of the highway were lit by the sinking sun, and their shadow silhouettes were being thrown clear across the four-lane road, forming exactly the décor I had been imagining.

Another suggestion from my in-house editor-in-chief, a fellow named Dave who serves as my Joe Plumber: Keep a small recorder within reach and capture Pulitzer dust whenever it chances to sift my way.

More stuff to carry, more to lose, more to learn how to operate. But possible.

Or as Susan would put it, “Oy, vey!”

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