J and I have this old person habit of watching old school mystery shows that well…are popular with older people. Why do we like them? I don’t know. I could plumb some psychological depths…maybe they remind us of when the shows were actually ON television and we were hanging out with our grandparents. I like that even though they are murder mysteries, they’re virtually non-violent. Maybe we’re old souls and that’s who these shows appeal to. Who knows?
Anyway, J’s favorite is Columbo (I like it too).
Columbo always knows who did it from the very beginning (and the audience does too…they show you the crime). J once joked, ‘It’s a good thing no one bled in the 1970s. That shooting would have really messed up that white sofa and carpeting…’ The suspense in the show comes from seeing how the murderer tries to get away with it and how Columbo foils his or her attempts. That’s how J’s brain works…like Columbo’s. It seems like magic to me, because it’s like the total opposite of how my brain works. He works from the conclusion, or desired result, backwards. It’s like he knows the right answer, and just has to figure out the steps to get there (just like Columbo).
That’s so not how my writer brain operates.
I take in all the same details, but I don’t really focus on each of them in the moment. I’m usually focused on the larger panorama and I don’t normally draw conclusions unless I’m sort of asked to draw one, or I come to a point in time or a situation that demands a conclusion. I’m that cliche, ‘I thought of it while I was in the shower,’ or, ‘I had a dream last night that made me realize…’ I’m like that often. I’ll be in the middle of driving to the grocery store or folding laundry and then all of a sudden, I think of where I left my keys. Or that plot hole in the story I’m writing resolves itself in my head. Or whatever. It’s just like my brain opened up a new window while I was in the middle of running another program…like that Monty Python transition…’And now for something completely different…’ BAM! That problem I couldn’t figure out…that process I felt was messy…now it all makes sense.
One wire trips, and I never can really pinpoint when it’s going to happen or what’s going to jog it forward or shake it loose…everything just comes flooding forth.
One little moment…it could be someone salting their food before they taste it…or the way someone scratches their elbow…will create an entire movie in my head of other little moments and looks and conversations and clues and tells I’ve gathered like flowers in a basket. Now it’s finally time to arrange them. Then I can solve the problem; find the lost thing; finish the story.
J and I were watching an episode of Murder She Wrote (our other favorite) the other day where J. B. Fletcher solved a murder because someone drank carrot juice in front of her.
It tied up all the loose ends for her. The carrot juice drinking. Unlike Columbo, she never knows from the beginning who the murderer is, and tries to prove it. She has to observe and absorb and then BAM! It comes together all at once.
It works the same way in my human relationships. I gloss over a lot of minor things that are less than ideal with other people and for the right other people…the people who give me reciprocity of sentiment and sincerity and effort…I overlook them forever. Sometimes I forget all about the less than ideal parts and only concentrate on the joy they bring to my life. But in relationships that are skewed or broken or incomplete, sometimes I hit a limit. Sometimes a person salts their food before they taste it once and then everything clicks. I see every red flag at once. All the raindrops form a flood. Just like knocking a story out, it all comes rushing at me…’why didn’t I see it before?’
I don’t know why my brain works this way. But it does.
I’m Jessica Fletcher. I’m not Lt. Columbo.