Jeff O'Handley, Author

Jeff O'Handley

The Doubting Writer Finds His Voice


While writing this weekend I listened to One From the Vault, a commercial release of a Grateful Dead concert from August, 1975. The show was notable in part because it was one of only two times the band played Bob Weir’s short instrumental, Sage & Spirit:

Sage and Spirit by Grateful Dead on Grooveshark

Sage & Spirit appeared on side 2 of the album, Blues for Allah, but I confess after probably the first or second time I listened to that album, I only listened to side 1. I loved side 1; side 2, not so much (note this was unusual behavior from me–in those days, skipping tracks on an album meant picking up the record player’s tone arm and trying to put it down right at the beginning of the track you wanted, without scratching the record, or playing with fast forward and rewind on your tape deck. It’s a lot easier now. Plus, I generally liked to listen to albums all the way through).

Since Sage & Spirit was only played twice in concert in thirty years, I was not particularly familiar with it. But as I listened, I heard interesting echoes of other Weir compositions, most notably, the distinctive opening to Lost Sailor, a song that would not be completed until four years after Sage & Spirit was recorded. There are other hints of other songs in there, as well.

As I worked on my WiP over the weekend, I find myself echoing myself, traveling over, if not exactly the same ground ground as before, then ground that is very familiar, very similar to where I’ve already been. I won’t say too much about it here, now (we know how fragile those WiPs can be, right?), except this current piece deals to some extent with a person who is a bit of an outsider in his community. And as I look back over previously completed (or started) projects, I see this theme running through over and over again. Sometimes it’s blatant and up front, other times it’s more subtle, but it’s pretty much always been there.

There seems to be a tendency for artists to explore certain topics or themes and images over and over again. I can’t explain why I keep going back to ‘the outsider’ in my writing, except I find the idea interesting. There’s a certain tension inherent in a character being on the outside looking in, especially when there’s a subtle hostility that exists because of her outsider status. And, I think, it’s a status we can all relate to: everyone’s been an outsider at some point in their lives. It’s something everyone can relate to.

I do wonder if I’ll ever write my way out of this and find another theme, or if it’s something that will unconsciously work its way into everything I write.

That’s about it for me for today. How about you? Do you find yourself returning to a particular theme or idea over and over again? Have a great week!

7 Responses

  1. Good idea, Carrie-mix it up a bit!

    Jemi-maybe it is just that it's such a common human experience, I don't know. Thank you!

  2. I know that feeling. I try to change things up if I notice repeated themes, the same way I try not to repeat phrases in prose, and both are difficult. You can't help your honest point of view, right? I don't think "the outsider" theme will ever go out of style. People always feel they're an outsider, an individual, special, so it's easy to identify with.

  3. My guess is those theme have a particular connection for us, either things we've experienced and feel passionately about or things we were hurt by (or those close to us were hurt by). Good post.

  4. -Sheena-kay–Excellent points. Familiar ground, but not necessarily the same.

    -Lexa–I suspect 'outsider' is indeed one of those universal themes.

    -Donna–thank you! I also think there are just certain things that interest us, the way a seashell might.

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