Once, I interviewed a lot of geniuses, my little tape recorder in hand. On a tight deadline and tempted to seek secretarial help, I’m glad I chose instead to transcribe the tapes myself. Not only did this pull me by the lapels right up close to the material, but I got some surprises. One was that of the nearly fifty interviewees, two possessed the extraordinary ability to speak in perfect English.
No ums, no slang, no backtracks like the other forty-eight interviews? No digressions, nothing wasted, perfectly sequential, no mistakes, no corrections . . . not even a comma out of place?
An orderly mind like this could, I have no doubt, produce something entirely whole and alive as if from thin air, a rabbit pulled from the magician’s hat. But if I, with my far more ordinary mind, wanted to come up with that rabbit, I’d need notes.
You don’t need to be a genius to take notes.
I jot down all sorts of things, a nagging question, an interesting word choice, a bit from the radio, something revelatory. A page ripped from a magazine, a recipe, a photograph, a title for a work that doesn’t exist yet, but I like it, so I make a note.
And in a dull moment, I’ll sift through that growing pile on my desk. If I wait long enough, I hear echoes. Certain preoccupations, certain devotions and obsessions turn up over and over. Different angles, maybe, different insights, and all of a sudden the idea has taken on mass, a faint outline of a rabbit appears. Without the notes, I’d never get a heartbeat. I’d just be standing there, hat in hand, waiting for the magic to start.