Recently I was struck by an essay idea. I reached into my purse for my writing-ideas notebook, and couldn’t find it. Next, I searched my totebag, and still nothing. Then my car, hoping it had spilled out. It hadn’t. Like most of us, our ideas are such a part of who we are, that without them I felt bereft and oddly empty.
That notebook contained the outlines of a dozen new essays, hundreds of thoughts and insights that would one day wheedle their way into my writing. In other words—my literary life. And it was gone. I knew I must have left it at the library, but when I called, they said they hadn’t seen it.
That’s when I went into panic mode.
Gilbert K. Chesterton said, “The way to love anything is to realize that it may be lost.” And I loved that notebook, though darned if I could remember one thing in it.
In the days after the loss, I retraced my steps: Home Depot, Lowes, Vista Paint, and The Blue Frog Cafe, but none of them had seen it. I got so angry with myself because I don’t lose things. I may give things away and later forget about it and turn the house upside down it looking for them, yet those were things I could live without.
I can’t live without my ideas.
Being sentimental, I tend to anthropomorphize objects, but in this case, it fit. That word means to ascribe human features, and what is more human than our ideas? They are what make us individuals. It sounds silly, but I wondered if my notebook, like Home Alone with a literary twist, felt abandoned and resentful as if I’d intentionally left it.
One night, I actually dreamt that my notebook had washed up on the Island of Lost Ideas and was sharing a cold beer with Hemmingway’s missing manuscript. There my ideas met other ideas—those lost in checked luggage or corrupted on a computer with no backup—and were combining, plotting, forming the basis of a terrific novel, which no one would ever read.
I know I’m not the only one; we’ve all lost ideas. A great one hits us in the night and, too tired to get up and write it down, we tell ourselves, “Oh, I’ll remember it.” But, we never do. Too bad, because what Saul Below once said is true, “You never have to rewrite anything that you get up in the middle of the night to write.”
Then, through sheer good luck, my notebook found its way back to me. I got an email from my library that a staff member had found it. I was so happy to see my lost notebook, complete with the pencil held in its elastic strap, that I immediately wrote my name and phone number on the inside cover. Having never lost one before—and I had filled dozens—I’d never thought to put my name in it.
It’s been said that, “Nothing which has entered into our experience is ever lost,” but I would amend that to add—except ideas. If not put on paper they fly away faster than a flock of startled birds. So if you value your ideas, write them down, and for gosh sakes, put your name in the notebook. That way you can shape them into stories and send them out into the world.
Don’t let them languish on the Island of Lost Ideas.