In my mind right now is a tiny little thing. It started smaller than a pea, just this miniature glob knocking around up in there, sometimes I’d notice it, but most times I’d just let it be. It’s this idea I have. For the past few days I had a headache, so I couldn’t think too deeply about much of anything, but I did notice that the thing was getting stronger. Tonight I was walking on Houston Street home from work and it dropped into my throat. It expanded, sizzling. It made it hard to see the lights. It’s getting bigger. Soon I might have to do something with it.
I’ve been thinking lately about ideas, where they come from, how long they last, how you lose them, how you hold on. I tried to give some writerly advice to a friend earlier this week—she’s been writing fragments and wanted some thoughts on how to break a pattern and write beyond the fragments into something long. I’m trying to think of a good answer. Because how do you take a fragment—a hard, rolling pea in your head—and make it sizzle and become enough that your fingers burn to turn it into a perfect thing? I can’t say.
Speaking of fragments, I bought this book for E—Catching the Big Fish by David Lynch, one of his favorite filmmakers, and one of mine (Blue Velvet is in my own personal top 5)—and I was flipping through the book and found a passage that spoke to me. Here he’s talking about Twin Peaks, which was my first unsuspecting introduction to his work:
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From Catching the Big Fish: “The Red Room”
“One summer day, I was at a laboratory called Consolidated Film Industries in Los Angeles. We were editing the pilot for Twin Peaks and had finished for the day. It was around six-thirty in the evening and we had gone outside. There were cars in the parking lot. I leaned my hands on the roof of one car, and it was very, very warm—not hot, but nicely warm. I was leaning there and—ssssst!—the Red Room appeared. And the backward thing appeared, and then some of the dialogue.
So I had this idea, these fragments. And I fell in love with them.
That’s how it starts. The idea tells you to build this Red Room. So you think about it. “Wait a minute,” you say, “the walls are red, but they’re not hard walls.” Then you think some more. “They’re curtains. And they’re not opaque; they’re translucent.” Then you put these curtains there. “But the floor…it needs something.” And you go back to the idea and there was something on the floor—it was all there. So you do this thing on the floor. And you start to remember the idea more. You try some things and you make mistakes, but you rearrange, add other stuff, and then it feels the way that idea felt.”
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I like hearing him talk about how it started for him. For me, tonight, I felt a new character as I walked home on Houston. I crossed during the Don’t Walk. I stood in the median as the cabs swept by. I thought of her, pieces of her, fragments. She was growing. Then the pea fell into my throat and the light turned to Walk and I had it from there.
This idea could grow from this one moment, and I may always remember it, as David Lynch remembers the hood of that car. I’m thinking of it now, and my heart’s beating. There’s nothing to do now but hope I can hold on.