The Tiger’s Tail
One of the best descriptions I’ve ever heard of this phenomenon—that is, of ideas entering and exiting the human consciousness at whim—came from the wonderful American poet Ruth Stone.
I met Stone when she was nearly ninety years old, and she regaled me with stories about her extraordinary creative process. She told me that when she was a child growing up on a farm in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields when she would sometimes hear a poem coming toward her—hear it rushing across the landscape at her, like a galloping horse. Whenever this happened, she knew exactly what she had to do next: She would “run like hell” toward the house, trying to stay ahead of the poem, hoping to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough to catch it. That way, when the poem reached her and passed through her, she would be able to grab it and take dictation, letting the words pour forth onto the page. Sometimes, however, she was too slow, and she couldn’t get to the paper and pencil in time. At those instances, she could feel the poem rushing right through her body and out the other side. It would be in her for a moment, seeking a response, and then it would be gone before she could grasp it—galloping away across the earth, as she said, “searching for another poet.”
But sometimes (and this is the wildest part) she would nearly miss the poem, but not quite. She would just barely catch it, she explained, “by the tail.” Like grabbing a tiger. Then she would almost physically pull the poem back into her with one hand, even as she was taking dictation with the other. In these instances, the poem would appear on the page from the last word to the first—backward, but otherwise intact.
That, my friends, is some freaky, old-timey, voodoo-style Big Magic, right there.
I believe in it, though.