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.