Friday, February 5, 2016

The Dreamers -- Confessions of an Absent-Minded Writer

My mystery novel's main sleuth character, Jack Donegal, is a toy inventor with some absent-minded characteristics, while his more down-to-earth buddy, Andy Westin, helps to keep him on track. I was partly inspired by my father, a scientist and inventor, who earned the nickname of “absent-minded professor” from my aunts and uncles when he was growing up. Really though, I didn't have to look very far for inspiration for an absent-minded character, because I'm an acorn that doesn't fall far from the tree. Dad's inventions deal with U.S. national security – among other things, he worked on a secure phone used by President Ronald Reagan – and later with satellites and GPS. My inventions are my fictional characters and stories.

I have friendly relationships with several of the business owners and workers on the street where I work. One of these friends is a worker at the 7Eleven where I frequently buy my lunches. This friend bought my book some months back and made my day with some encouraging words, “You are a very good writer, Ma'am.” In recent times, I was at the 7Eleven again and, as I was making my purchase, I found myself staring at the card swiping machine as if this was a hard and difficult task. I looked up at my friend. “I'm sorry. My brain is somewhere else,” I told him as I tried to pull myself together and do the next few steps. He answered, “You are an artist, Ma'am. An artist can be in two places at once.” How very insightful of him. He was exactly right, and I was happy again with the compliment as well as the understanding. This was not, however, the last time that this particular person would observe my absent-mindedness.

Some time after this incident, I wanted to go to the Dunkin Donuts for my lunch, which is a block closer to the office than the 7Eleven. My feet, however, decided to go on automatic pilot and took me past the Dunkin Donuts to the 7Eleven. When I walked through the doors at the 7Eleven, I had the familiar feeling you get when you walk into a room and forget why you needed to go there. The first words that came out of my mouth were, “I'm confused.” I'm not sure a younger, shyer version of myself would have made such a statement that amounted almost to an announcement. Now, my friend was looking towards me and I felt a need to give some explanation. “I didn't mean to come here,” I said. “I'm on automatic pilot, I think.” Remembering his earlier comments to me about being in two places at once, I added, “It's just like you said.”

Of course, this felt like a bit of an awkward confession bordering on rudeness. How could I leave the store without purchasing something? Loyalty compelled me to go pick up something for my lunch here anyway. As I was at the register, my friend says, half chuckling, “So, you didn't mean to come here today?” We chatted for a moment about being on automatic pilot, and he made his own confessions of doing things absent-mindedly.

When I showed up again a day or two later, he asked me, “So, did you mean to come here today?” This time, I answered, “Yes.”

Does anyone else have a good story of being so distracted by your creative work that you did something absent-minded?

If you find yourself having absent-minded moments, you are in good company with some of the great minds of history. There are some amusing examples here. If you look out, you may find some more, Einstein, Edison and Isaac Newton are known for a few absent-minded moments as well as the writer G.K. Chesterton.


  1. All the time, my most famous trick is to leave something behind. Thank goodness all the clerks know me making sure I got all my stuff.

    1. Yes, I've done that too, Sheryl. I left my bank card behind once in this very store, but, happily, I retraced my steps, and they had my card safe and sound in a drawer. Thank God they are honest people. No mysterious charges showeed up on my account.