Flights of Fancy

Some days, thousands of thoughts flood my brain.  On those days, my creativity seems to be bubbling over, my mind racing in high gear.  On those days, it’s hard to concentrate on any one thing because there’s just so much I want to think about.  There’s so much to try to capture in language that might enable me to explain those thoughts to another person.

Other days, and today is one of them, my brain seems lethargic, as if someone filled it with cold molasses overnight, then put my head in a freezer.  I try to think of something interesting to write, because I want to write, but nothing spills from my mind onto the screen through my fingers. Who would fill my brain with cold molasses, and what would motivate such a cold, callous act?

Even hot—or, by now, lukewarm—coffee is unable to loosen the vice grip the cold molasses has on my mind.  It’s as if channels of thought in my brain have  been plugged with rivers of thick, viscous, impenetrable goo.

Speaking of molasses, did you know you can use molasses to make your own brown sugar?  All you need is one cup of granulated cane sugar, a tablespoon of unsulfured molasses, a fork, a bowl, and time. Use the fork to mix the sugar and molasses in a bowl; it takes time and energy, but keep at it and eventually the molasses will be thoroughly mixed with the sugar and, voilà, brown sugar!

That’s what happens when my brain’s speed is set to slow. I get distracted, not by creative thoughts, but by chasing my tail through a rabbit warren. I have to manually redirect my thoughts to something relevant.  But, when my brain is set to slow speed, I have a hard time understanding what is relevant and what is not.

Someone once told me creativity can be ignited by imagining oneself unexpectedly naked in a public place.  The point of the exercise is to jar the mind into creating ways to cover up without calling attention to oneself. It has never worked for me.

I have tried imagining myself in New Orleans, sitting at Café du  Monde and watching the people go by, while sipping coffee and eating a beignet.  I create life stories for the people who stroll by.  But those stories too often end badly, so I abandon the café in favor of a visit to Café Ba-Ba-Reeba in Chicago, where I order tapas and a glass of dry sherry and watch the tables full of young women, laughing and consuming too much bastardized sangria for their own good.  Their stories, too, take an unsavory and inappropriate direction in my mind, so I move on to an icebar in Stockholm, where patrons don thick, silver-faced overcoats and drink vodka from glasses formed from ice, laughing and obviously enjoying the blatant but creative marketing ploy.

Those stories, at least some of them, go awry as well, but a few seem worth pursuing, so I follow one of them.  Two women from Montreal, Ericka and Suzette, leave the ice bar and walk quickly to the Silja Line departure dock.  I engage them in conversation in the ticket line, which is how I know their names.  I don’t know their last names. I judge Ericka and Suzette to be somewhere in their sixties.  They are traveling together while their respective husbands make a pilgrimage to the Super Bowl, they say.

We board the Silja Serenade for the all-night cruise to Helsinki.  We dine together, then spend time in the casino; no gambling, just watching the show.  We leave early, the two of them retiring to their cabin and I to mine.

I awaken quite early, as is my custom, go above deck, and watch as the ship is maneuvered into port. As luck would have it, Ericka and Suzette are early risers, as well, so the three of us leave the ship after it docks and spend the day walking the streets of Helsinki, bundled up against the cold, exploring several bakeries along the way.  We stop for lunch at a restaurant the guidebooks claim offers a true, traditional Finnish menu. Whether it is traditional or not, I cannot say, but meal—an appetizer of burbot roe, followed by a root-vegetable stew with smoked reindeer meat—is exceptional!

English-language bookstores are plentiful, but they are not as interesting as the Swedish and Finnish bookstores. A Swedish book filled with tales of shipwrecks intrigues Ericka, while a Finnish coffee-table book awash in photos of reindeer interests Suzette.

Before we know it, the day has slipped away and we must rush back to the docks for the return trip to Stockholm.  We part company after boarding the ship and I excuse myself for the evening, saying I must return to my cabin to write.  When the Silja Serenade docks in Stockholm the next morning, I wait until the rest of the passengers have left before walking down the platform from the ship to the dock.  Ericka and Suzette have gone their own way and I go mine, my journal in hand, every page as empty now as it was before I sat watching passers-by from the open-air seating at Café du Monde.

Perhaps the next cup will dislodge the molasses.


About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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