Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice

Musical Monday: Neil Young

Wow. I’m much more tired than I thought. I should know by now that it’s the day after the day after that leaves you feeling like you got hit by Miley Cyrus and her wrecking ball (not to fear, folks, Cyrus’s video is not forthcoming from me; but did you see the words of advice from Sinead O’Connor to Cyrus? Good stuff, and possible fodder for a post–but not today).

No, I’m going in a different direction. It’s funny the way our brains make connections, how thought follows thought, often in an orderly, progressive matter, and the links that are sometimes made. Yesterday afternoon I was washing up some dishes, and thinking. Not thinking about the event, for the first time in several days, but thinking about writing. More specifically, Sunday afternoon is my Writers’ Circle day and I was in pre-thinking mode, which I sometimes do on Sundays. Sometimes I go in completely devoid of ideas and follow the prompt, or whatever catches my attention, other times I go in with some kind of pre-existing idea. And a phrase came to me. Where it came from, I don’t know, but it involved wind and a keyhole (no, I did not have Stephen King on my mind), but that seemed like too much of a clichรฉ, so I kept thinking.

So I stood at the sink with my hands in hot, soapy water, thinking. And by the way, hand washing dishes is great for thinking about writing. It’s something to do with your hands that doesn’t overtax your brain, allowing for good flow of thoughts–oh, how all of you with the industrial-strength dishwashers that don’t even need a cursory scrape of the stuck-on food bits envy me. Anyway, I discarded the wind through the keyhole idea, but kept thinking on wind rattle a door in its frame. And I ‘saw’ a person, a woman, sitting in a darkened room, watching the door. It’s windy, the door is almost breathing in that way flimsy doors sometimes do on a windy day. She’s got a shotgun in her lap. As she’s watching, light starts playing around the edges of the door, as if someone’s approaching with a flashlight. Who? I don’t know. Why? Don’t know. But I see this woman lift her shotgun, settle the but against her shoulder, and level the barrel at the door, one eye squeezing shut, her finger curling on the trigger, waiting. And then, in a perfectly logical way, a song lyric followed: “Daddy’s rifle in my hand felt reassuring”, and the spell was kind of broken.

Way back in the day, back when this song was new, back when rock radio wasn’t compartmentalized into styles of classic hits (we have two ‘classic rock’ stations in our area; one tends to favor a slightly harder edge that includes almost constant dosages of Led Zeppelin; the other is a little more mellow, and feeds us a lot more of things like Crosby, Stills & Nash (and sometimes Young), and the Eagles. Neither station plays this song as far as I can tell), this song was all over the radio. I haven’t heard it in years, but it’s a great one, in my opinion. One of the remarkable things about it to me is how visual it is–I can see this poor kid standing on the docks, rifle in hand, with this big boat–and his doom–bearing down on him. And it’s got character building, too. Think about what you learn about this kid and his family in a few short verses. Young is a brilliant songwriter, and it’s amazing to think that he’s been at it for somewhere around 50 years now.

Anyway, that’s that. I’ll add that my event went quite well from my perspective. I have a buttload of stuff to unload from my van today, some post-event wrap up to do, and then I’m probably going to sit at my desk and think, “Now what?” I’ll find something. How was your weekend?

9 Responses

  1. Wow. I just read an article about an archaeological dig on an island just off Sweden, and how they've uncovered an ancient murder mystery. It looks like the entire village was massacred. Anyway, reading your ideas about a woman sitting in a chair with a shotgun gave me images of a village being raided and she's sitting in defense mode waiting her turn. Hope her story ends well ๐Ÿ™‚ And it's surprising what washing dishes can do for you ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. My weekend went great. Although it was a bit on the soggy side.

    Can honestly say I've NEVER heard that song before and I listened to a lot of radio back then. At least, I THOUGHT I did! Haha!

  3. It is, isn't it? And I have no idea how it will end, or if it will even start. Still, it's an interesting idea, and it's got some grab, if you know what I mean.

  4. I've seen that video, and I don't think there's a whole lot of anything good in it. You never know what's going to strike you, do you?

  5. Washing dishes is definitely one of the good things to do whilst thinking. Thinking in the shower, I find, is also very effective. The problem with both for me is that if I get an idea I decide I want to jot down, by the time I've dried myself and made it to a notepad/my laptop, I've forgotten ๐Ÿ™ The idea you came up with sounds really cool. I love it when your thought pull you into a scene like that.

  6. You've got something there. I absolutely love when something like that happens. And yes, many a great idea has come to me while washing dishes! ๐Ÿ™‚

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