The air outside is so cold, my nose burns with breathing it. It penetrates my denim like water and before I have rounded the corner, my thighs rub inside the cold fabric, leeching warmth into the cold air. I am always surprised how quickly this happens. A memory flashes through my body, a memory of another city, another cold day, another me, learning that smiling or laughing into the cold air makes my jaw ache. I rest my hand on my cheek to soothe the remembered pain.
The car seems farther away than usual. I am mincing my steps, listening to the snow crunch under my running shoes, yet mindful of the ice patches underneath. I used to make snowmen in snow like this, tiny Barbie-sized piles of snow in the center of my parents’ bare deck.
The Watcher inside me notes these associations as they arise. It is her job to sit back and watch thoughts form, like a line manager, as if my mind were in the business of making widgets. It’s also her job to warn me when my associations are getting too far out there to be socially acceptable and understood. The link between snow on the ground now and foot-high snowmen 30 years ago passes her inspection; the one between snow now and the need to call the dentist does not.
These associations are also part of how I write. Often, I am inspired to the pen by an unusual association, something new coming to rest in my mind nestled against something old. A conjunction of a new thing or idea against an old. Yet communicating that conjunction requires writing it out, sometimes once, twice, four times, before I get down what I want to express. Sometimes it takes writing out several pages worth of background material - notes on the scene and location, comments and thoughts about my feet on the snow, how it sounds, what exactly the link is from the new to the old. And then turning the page and starting over from the beginning, describing what I am trying to express.
And so I am learning to write first drafts, and to keep writing them until I have excavated the truth that I want to share with you. Until I have set my words over a low flame and reduced them to a warm syrup which carries, in bold flavor notes, the idea I am yearning to express.