Ideaphoria, Redux. Or, Writer’s Shpilkes
February 23, 2018 § 3 Comments
By Nina B. Lichtenstein
Ideaphoria. Shpilkes. I love these foreign words because they make my common strain of inattentiveness feel more interesting. I’ve shared with you before on the Brevity Blog the blessings and curses of ideaphoria and its effect on my writing life. As it turns out, it is not unique to me, but quite common among creative folks.
Just this morning, a glaring example of the condition stares me in the face when I wake my sleeping computer. The screen immediately lights up all bright eyed and bushy tailed, ready for a new, productive day (no excuse now). I crack my fingers made stiff from the winter’s sub-zero temps here in Maine, and check in with my posture (my scattered yoga practice finally paying off) tilting my head this way and that, as if I were a boxer getting ready to jump into the ring. In front of me are piles of open word-docs, one layered on top of the other, all of which I feel passionate about, all left hanging at some stage in the creative process. There’s what I believe to be the clever screenplay treatment, and the telling essay I promised an editor of an online mag, and the longer CNF piece with a fast approaching submission deadline, and the umpteenth false start to the historical fiction novel I’ve been working on for years, not to mention the baby-boomer, two-act play I think has great potential.
An arsenal of questions bombards me, and all I hear is their critical tone: Why does this happen so often to me? Where do I begin? What do I continue with? Or, most importantly, how do I finish? Anything? Ever?
I blame it on the Shpilkes. Yiddish, the lingua franca of about 12 million Eastern European Jews before the Holocaust, seems to have an expressive word for just about everything. Shpilkes is commonly understood as a state of agitation or impatience, but the word actually means “needles.” Anyone who has trouble staying focused on one task can recognize the jerky, involuntary reactions cause by their sharp, sudden pricks. Like when I’m sitting here as I am supposed to—like our writing mentors tell us to—minding my own business, writing, and suddenly, zoing, the jab hits and my brain and fingers pull me away from this to that, and then on to the next thing, and there you have it, the writer’s shpilkes.
On a good day, when I do finish a piece of writing and send it off, I at least manage to see these shpilkes as almost valuable, since everything has to start with an idea, and this is one that worked. On a bad day, when I flounder and feel overwhelmed, they appear as little scheming devils, hovering, playing peekaboo, teasing and tempting me to leave my hard-earned but fragile focus behind to come play with them instead. Obviously, I usually find them irresistible.
But devils come in disguises, I tell myself. I just need to play a trick on them, by inversing the definition, and making them work for and not against me. Every tantalizing idea that can lead to writing, any writing, puts me in a place where I’ve yearned to be all my life—in a playground filled with words. If I can spend my time exploring and experimenting with the many elements of writing, I tell myself, I will eventually grow up to be a decent writer. Even if it means I begin the day on a slippery slide, then hop on the swing or the see saw, only to run over to the monkey bars, and perhaps end the day on the merry-go-round.
Its dizzying, all these ideas, but a little devil tells me it has to be worth it.
Nina B. Lichtenstein is a native of Oslo, Norway, and holds a PhD in French literature. She has lived, taught, and raised three sons in CT. A fresh empty-nester, she migrated north to Maine to pursue a quiet writing life, which is constantly interrupted. Some of Nina’s writing lives on her blog https://vikingjewess.com, and other essays have been published in The Washington Post, Lilith Magazine, Literary Mama, and Edible Maine, among other places. Her first book Sephardic Women’s Voices: Out of North Africa was published in 2017, and she is currently working on many things at once.