I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate. All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to die.
-Roy Batty (Rutger Hauer), Blade Runner (1982)
I should state right away that this post has nothing to do with Blade Runner, either of the 2019 or 2049 variety (though I did rewatch the former last weekend in preparation for watching the latter, probably this afternoon).
And it’s not really about language either, though possibly it’ll evolve in such a direction before I’ve finished writing (thankfully these things never turn out exactly as I imagine). Originally I thought it might be focused on a particular word. I’ve mentioned before how so many ideas come to me while I’m running. It might be something chemical, and it’s certainly related to the lack of distractions. Maybe the music helps too. Whatever the reasons, it’s always a particularly fertile creative experience for me, but with one major downside: I can’t write the ideas down, and often forget them. I wondered the other day if there were a term for this phenomenon (like the doorway effect). I though perhaps there might be some French or Latin term we use, and that was going to be my language angle. But no: it’s just called forgetting.
Sometimes I’ll manage to keep an idea in my head, especially if it’s a particularly good one. It’s very stressful though, and the difficulty is of course related to at what stage of the run it comes to me. I don’t know what the ratio of retained to lost ideas is, but even losing one is incredibly frustrating. It always feels like it’s hovering just outside my reach, but I can’t grasp it. And I always feel convinced it was the best idea ever. It’s really depressing to think that you had a great idea that will never come back to you. Maybe it would’ve revolutionised the way we think about language, and answered a question millions of people didn’t even know they wanted to ask! But thoes dreams will never come true.
Well, some of them might, because I know that sometimes the ideas do come back to me. Often it’s when I’ve stopped trying to remember them. And sometimes it’s for more straightforward reasons. A lot of my ideas come to me when I realise I don’t know something, and (once I’ve got over the initial shock of discovering there’s actually something I don’t know) I set out to fill in the gap in my knowledge and you, dear reader, get to enjoy the results. Why do we call it a drawer? Why are boats and ships “female?” Things like that. So even if I wonder something, and forget what I was wondering about, the gap still remains, which means that I’m likely to think about it again at some point.
And a lot of my ideas come very specifically from encountering individual words which are interesting for one reason or another, so even if I forget the idea, it’ll probably come back to me again the next time I encounter the word. This is where reading a lot helps, though at the moment I’m reading The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, which may lead me to write a fascinating history of the many different types of carriage in use in Late-Victorian England. He rides in a lot of carriages, does Sherlock Holmes.
Sometimes when an idea comes back to me I immediately recognise that I had it before, and I feel relieved. Sometimes though, I’m sure, ideas recur to me, and I’m not aware that this is the second time. Occasionally the idea will seem familiar, but I can’t remember originally coming up with it. Usually though, I’ll congratulate myself on my brilliance while being entirely unaware that I’ve already had the idea seven times before and this is my brain giving me one last chance to remember it before it gives up on me.
Still, there are definitely some that I know I’ve forgotten and might never come back. Just this week I know that two ideas came to me almost at the same time. One I managed to get onto my ideas list, but the other eludes me. I know it was about the way we use a really common word, and would be really, really interesting, but for now at least, it’s lost in time, like tears in rain. Time to have lunch…