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The Thing You Can't Explain 

What's "the thing you can't explain?"

It could be anything.

An image you can't get out of your head.
An obsession that keeps surfacing when you sit down to write. 

A dream that you've never been able to forget. 

It's that feeling when you know something is important to your creative life...but you don't know why. 

As someone whose brain trades in obsessions, I've grown accustomed to sensing meaning without being able to explain it.  But sometimes, the unexplainable still knocks me off my feet.

About eleven years ago, I had a dream that concluded in a busy train station. At the train station, the ticker board was clacking, the tiles cascading. (If I close my eyes, I can still hear the sound.)

I knew the ticker board was important. I felt it when I woke up, my fingers itching for a pencil and paper.


At that time, I had a large scroll of paper taped behind my headboard, and a pencil on my side table, because ideas often came to me in the night. But with a pencil in my hand, I had no idea what to write.


I didn't even know what to call the ticker board. I probably managed "clacking train station thingy." (I later discovered that the machine was called a Solari board, or a split-flap display). 


But what exactly was important about image? I didn't know and couldn't begin to even explain why it mattered. I felt very much like not a writer, and just a person who had a dream.


At worst, I was also a little pretentious, paper taped behind my headboard and all. 


And so I secreted the idea of the split-flap display away, for ten years, until I began writing my novel. Now, that image serves as the prologue, and it has propelled me forward through half of my book. I would never say that is fully "explained," but I do not want it to be.


It feeds my curiosity, day in and day out, and that is exactly what I need.

Since we're talking about the Solari board, a big device for time-keeping, let's add that time does shed light on the things we can't explain. Almost certainly, time will. 

But I don't believe that time is the only way to loosen the grip of the unexplainable. I think we can invite these ideas into our creative lives anytime, especially if we make space for them in new ways.

The artist Georges Braque said, "In art there is only one thing that counts: the thing you can't explain."

I didn't know that quotation until I started creating this offering, but I appreciate it. And, I don't think t's the only thing that counts. Everything we do counts. If it feeds our creativity, it's worth our time.

But I do believe in making time for the things we can't explain, inviting them into our creative lives as if they were acquaintances we wanted to know better, and not mysteries never to be solved.


I like to imagine a person taking off their shoes, settling down on the couch, and having a conversation with me over tea or coffee or maybe something stronger. Then, maybe they leave, or maybe they open a book from the coffee table, and sit and stay awhile in the comfortable silence. 

My mini, self-paced workshop,
"The Thing You Can't Explain,"
is coming June 2022.
Sign up to be notified when it opens.
Sliding scale, $12-44

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