In contrast to long-term memory, working or short-term memory is severely limited in the number of words, phrases, or “chunks” of material that it can hold simultaneously (Baddeley, 1986). With space for only five to nine chunks, the component of working memory serves as a limitation as well as a resource to writers.
–R.T. Kellogg Psychology of Writing p33
Some weeks ago, my friend C told me she’d resigned herself to drafting text that will go with/near her sculptural work-in-progress. As she fished for her notes in her bag, she lamented the loss of a fully-formed draft, one that sprang into her head during a weightlifting workout, but that she postponed capturing on paper until after the workout completed.
By that time, it was completely gone.
I knew how the story would end even as she said, “I was working out with my trainer, and I thought of the perfect…”. For me, it happens while I’m driving; I’m thoroughly absorbed in the task at hand, but not really. It turns out there’s very much a there there, that a certain caliber of activity sets the brain just free enough to creatively work things out. I like knowing that this state is reproducible, and I plan to understand it more clearly for my microcosm, BUT
it’s the evanescence of those ideas I’m thinking about today. Ever since “Sock Feet,” or maybe even before? I have compulsively kept idea-capture tools scattered throughout my life. Digitally-inclined as I am, I nevertheless also have notepads and writing implements in my cars, in my purses, on end tables, by my bed (absolutely by my bed), in my bathroom. Most of what lands on these scraps are drifting to-dos, pinned down to better free my brain’s attention. It’s images, though, that drive my compulsion.
I have a vivid memory of driving Mopac northbound, in the tree-lined section between 29th and Koenig, with an image wrapped like a caress around my throat. My girls were medium-sized; I don’t think I had a voice recorder–and even if I had, the image wasn’t firm enough to hold its sense if spoken. My hands stayed on the wheel, but I regretted it bitterly.
I can feel the memory even now, but not enough to move the image into language. Maybe it will revisit me, but after a decade I’m doubting it.
Unwritten thoughts have the life-span of mayflies. If one pleases you–or haunts you–write it down:
you can always recycle the note, but you’ll never see that particular thought again.