Notes from Candice Ransom

The Twirlies

twirly house

This has been a year of Twirlies.  This is my term for the impetuous thoughts and notions that ricochet in my head, often arriving in that liminal space between sleep and waking.

People with mood disorders can be struck with “flight of ideas” or “grandiose thoughts,” both of which are severe symptoms, but the Twirlies are much milder.  So mild they seem possible.  Reasonable.  Really good ideas, even, and in my case, usually book-related.  The problem is that they are not always feasible.  And I have too many of them.

2014 started off-balance.  I wanted desperately to get back to work after two solid years of dealing with medical issues, other people’s and mine.  And so I began vigorously cranking out new ideas.  I’ve always been very good at this. I’ve been known to dream book ideas and even dream stories, complete with printed text.  It’s not restful sleep.

Being a writer and having the Twirlies seem to be part and parcel of a creative life.  Ideas are ideas, however they are delivered.  But the Twirlies are different—an enormous waste of time and sometimes hard to come down from.

So what exactly are Twirlies?  I can remember a few from 2007, a year I was exhausted and stressed from too many projects, travel, and writing my master’s thesis.  I thought about doing a book about Mark Twain when he visited the Jamestown 200th or 300th anniversary.  I ran that idea by my thesis adviser, a Twain scholar.  An entire book about Twain’s brief and mostly insignificant trip?

The worst Twirly of that period, the one that embarrasses me even today, was deciding to make a scrapbook of Margaret McElderry’s life.  Margaret McElderry was the last of the original children’s book editors.  By 2007, she had retired from her imprint.

I raced to tell my husband, the idea glittering in my mind.  I’d do this wonderful thing for an editor I’d admired my entire career!  My husband listened carefully and told me that while this was a “good idea,” it would be hard to make work.  Why would this editor let a total stranger be privy to her private photographs and documents?  I’d go to New York, I argued.  I’d show her my scrapbooks and she’d be thrilled to have me make one for her.

Sometimes I get the Twirlies when I need to feel engaged with the world, craving a bigger life than I have.

Last month, I decided I would volunteer at an animal refuge 30 miles away, one that keeps cats, dogs, and even livestock that can’t be adopted.  I offered to photograph and write a book about the place, which meant I’d require free access.  I even filled out waivers.  But when I was told I wouldn’t be permitted to interact with the animals—unsafe for both the animals and me—I fell out of the mood.  I didn’t want to wash cat bowls.

The Twirlies are often aided and abetted by the Internet.  After the refuge fiasco, I found the blog of someone doing an interesting project.  I decided I would write to this person, but I had too much to say for an email.  I spent an entire weekend tracking down the address.  I planned to write this person a long letter, include part of my own writing, detail all my own interests, and even send along some childhood drawings I’d photocopied.  Mercifully, I didn’t follow through, which is generally what happens with Twirlies.

There were more Twirlies this year, minor ones like impulse-spending and writing too-long, too-confessional letters, and not-so-minor ones like impulsively making promises I couldn’t keep.

Then last month Winchester left us and the Twirlies sank deep, like koi in an iced-over pond.  I felt fragile, glass-like.  I became very, very quiet.  No Twirlies could save my cat.  No Twirlies would save me.

The Twirlies are, I believe, the result of not being involved in meaningful work.  A restless mind reaches out, searches, and latches onto shimmering ideas.  Despite my longing for a meaningful project, the Twirlies drive a wedge between me and my work.

I needed to figure out what the Twirlies were, what they were doing to me, and how to control them.  I sat down and put together my own self-help book. Seriously.  I listed my issues and my goals.  And then I researched each problem and came up with solutions.  I’ve read a hundred self-help books over the years.  The information in them would make sense, but I’d forget it.

This self-help book is tailored to my personal problems.  It has inspirational quotes, and quoted material from books, articles, and the Internet, distilled into short chapters.  It has solutions I can implement immediately, and longer-term solutions I can work toward.

There is a separate chapter called “Twirlies.”  I had to analyze this particular issue on my own.  I figured that when my mood goes in either direction, I’m more susceptible to the Twirlies.  I spend money.  I stay on the Internet.  I’m too chatty.  And I’m bombarded with ideas.  But ideas are also part of my own creativity.  How can I tell the difference?

My solution:  Sit on the idea.  Don’t feed it with the Internet.  If the idea is valid and good, it will persist and grow.  If it’s not, it’ll wither and be forgotten.

On my desk is the red binder called Daily Plan 2015.  40 pages, single-spaced. It seems almost pathetic to put together my own self-help book, but I’m glad I did.  It’s one Twirly idea that is the most beneficial way to start the New Year.

16 thoughts on “The Twirlies”

  1. I don’t think you’re alone with Twirlies, Candice. They sound all too familiar to me too. And the scrap book idea didn’t sound too crazy either. “Dear Genius” is a testament to that. And I’m stumped why an animal adoption place wouldn’t want you to interact with the animals. That just seems weird. So, all said, I don’t think your twirlies sound too out there. But sitting on an idea to see if it really takes is always a good idea. Happy New Year! 🙂 e

    • I doubt I am alone with the Twirlies, especially in this Age of Distraction, but other people probably keep them in their place better.

      The refuge is 1200 acres and the animals have free run. It’s part refuge, part Wild Kingdom, and part Jungle Safari. Volunteers must abide by strict rules. I pictured myself being Farmer in the Dell, strolling around, petting the animals, taking their pictures.

      And that is part of the Twirlies–the image they create of a not-very-likely outcome.

      Happy New Year to you too! Only a little over six months till summer term!

  2. Your wise words I needed to hear today. “Craving a bigger life than I have . . .” is my source swirlies (a cousin to twirlies). The funny thing is, the life that I seek, the one I think I need, I don’t even want it when I get it. I spend time chasing what I think I should want, rather than celebrating and enjoying the simple and wonderful life I already have. Your conclusion is wise -and it’s advice I will heed – to sit on the idea. You may have to sit on me to help hold me still and make me wait and see. I’m always grateful for your insight and encouragement. Sounds like your year is off to a sound start, and I am happy for you.

    • We all fall into that trap of wanting things–or a different life–and finding out it’s not that great. Yesterday I walked through my house and thought, “Every day is the same. My house is the same. We eat the same stuff. Nothing changes.” But that’s not true, things *do* change. That was my bored, restless mind needing something to do. A new toy mouse to play with.

      I’m counting on you to sit on me, too! Eric Maisel’s advice to practice hushing and holding is helping. My next blog post . . .

  3. Wow, this is a great piece. I don’t get the twirlies to the degree you do (perhaps because I started out as a lawyer and perhaps why I am not as published as you!) but I do understand. I think all writers do, to some degree. And deciding what to do with them is really, truly a challenge. It is sometimes hard when you decide to go all the way with something and then regret it! I wish you best of luck in sorting things out this year–a happy and meaningful 2015.

    • Moira, the fact you were a lawyer means you have a logical, mostly quiet mind. Be glad of it! My husband is like you.

      But everyone in any profession gets notions–it’s just that artists get more of them. I don’t think it’s the end of the world to run some of those ideas down the road. It’s how we learn and grow. But only some–not all, as I am tempted to do!

      Thanks for dropping in. The best 2015 to you, too!

  4. “The Twirlies are, I believe, the result of not being involved in meaningful work.” WOW. That’s been me to a tee…even the animal thing. In fact, I sat down today looking forward to a new year of focused creativity, but found your post while sifting through my email instead. It’s a good thing though because now I’m going to close the internet, open up a Twirlie that has tenaciously been tugging on my hem, and sit on the rest that come, to see what hatches! Thanks for putting this down on paper, Candice; it feels good knowing I’m not alone. :0)

    • Donna, I admit I hesitated posting this today. It’s very personal and makes me sound looney-tunes. But I figured a few people might have some version of the Twirlies, which I believe is worse now that we have the Internet.

      When my husband goes back to work next week, he’ll take my DSL router box with him. I’ll get it back after supper. That takes care of *one* distraction.

      And I too am working on a Twirly idea that may not be so ridiculous! Good luck to you in the coming year. Onward!

  5. I don’t get many ideas, but as it takes me a long time to bring one out, I guess that works out. But isn’t the grass always greener? I am definitely not the person you want around when you get twirlies. I was thinking all of these were GREAT ideas. A twirly-enabler, I will keep my hands under my butt and my mouth shut and remember to say: Take ten. I’m glad you found an idea you can sit with, and follow your own good I’m certain advice.

    • Yes, you’d be an enabler for me, but your own ideas are so sound, I still think you’d be a better sounding board.

      Those ideas all sound great, but when you get them every day, and they insist on being investigated, it’s a big time sink and work-derailer. And 99% of those ideas aren’t feasible. Truly. Spend a week inside my head and you’ll have all the ideas you could use for the rest of your life!

      Happy 2015, Miss Jeannine!

  6. Ah! Now I have a cute word to describe the mad flood of ideas in my brain. Yes, it seems creative people are so easily distracted. And so my key word for the year is ‘focus’. Something I’ve gotta work on.

    • It took me forever to come up with that word, but it suits, doesn’t it? We twirl from one idea to another, sometimes more than one idea within a single twirl.

      My word for the year is the same it was last year, clarity. I didn’t achieve it last year thanks to the Twirlies. I’ll try harder this year! Happy 2015 to you!

  7. What a great post, and great idea! I think you are wonderful.
    Have you read Cynthia Lord’s Shelter Pet Squad? If you go to a regular animal shelter, they need lots of help walking the dogs, etc.

    • Hi Patience! Yes, I know about Cindy Lord’s series. I can’t walk into a regular animal shelter without feeling sorry for all the cats and dogs. I’d bring home a cat every day. Even when they bring the cats and dogs into PetSmart, I always look and feel tempted.

      The feral/unadoptable animal refuge appealed to me because of the variety of animals and also I wouldn’t be bringing home a cow or llama or dog. The best to you in 2015!

  8. I can totally relate to your Twirlies, Candice. I always have ideas twirling in my head. If I state one out loud, my daughter and I call it a “Clock”–as in, add this to all the other ideas that you’ll never take time for.

    I have a middle grade novel out there on submission–lots of NOs, and two Maybes. I’m preparing myself for another writing failure by looking for nonwriting outlets and starting to collect clocks–decoupage the top of a table, scan all my travel slides, etc.

    Maybe your Twirling will surprise you.

    Creative New Year, Mary

    • “Clock!” Very funny! Hang on to hope with that novel. Two maybes is nothing to sneeze at. Turn your Clock into starting a new book. You can always scan your travel slides when you have a cold.

      Happy Creative 2015 to you too!


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