You'd be surprised by what you can pull out of your mind with a dictionary, a fingertip, and a life lived.
For my column this week I gave myself a challenge.
I pulled out a dictionary (an actual wood-pulp dictionary like God intended, not a cheesy Internet one) opened it at random, and plopped my fingertip on a word.
I told myself the first noun I landed on, that’s what my column this week would be about, free-association style. Then, to make it even more of a challenge, I gave myself half an hour to write it.
So — plop! — here’s the random noun of the day:
Granary: 1. A building for storing threshed grain 2. a region that produces much grain.
Oh, this is too easy. If I lived in New York City, I’d be sitting here stumped. But in one of the most corn-productive counties in the state, my brain doesn’t even have to break a sweat.
The first thing I free-associated is that time about a dozen years ago when I wanted to take photos from the top of the Morton grain elevator for some reason.
That was fine, the sort of challenge I appreciated then more than I do now. I got some memorable pictures up there, none of which I can recall at the moment.
What does stand out was how I had to get up and down the elevator — using a hand-operated rope pulley lift, like granary workers did a hundred years ago.
I stood on a little wooden platform about as big as this copy of the Gazette when it’s folded on a news stand, and tugged on a rope to lift myself off the ground.
(The platform was counterweighted a bit, so I didn’t have to lift my entire weight, just maybe half of it.)
After 80 or 100 feet of this, trying hard to not think about what would happen if I let go of the rope, I reached the top of the grain elevator.
Running around the ladders and gangways 100 or so feet up was loads of fun. Then it was time to go back down.
Stepping onto the postage stamp-sized platform (did I say folded newspaper before? I mean postage stamp), I realized what I had to do next, and was made unhappy.
I started lowering myself, going hand-over-hand by rope pulley with hands that were already beginning to blister, and arms that were already exhausted and shaky from the trip up.
There have only been a few times in my life when I’ve been more scared. The last 30 feet or so were the worst. I had to use every bit of strength I had, and still slipped and dropped a few inches a couple times....
All that from plopping my finger on the word “granary.”
Anytime you’re bored, pull out a dictionary, close your eyes, poke at a word at random, and free-associate about it to see what floats to the surface of mind.
You’ll be amazed how much stuff there is packed in your brain, just waiting for the proper trigger.