Of Helium Balloons and Other Things That Slip Away

Has it ever happened to you?

We were talking about the space between us all and the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion, when suddenly we were interrupted by our waitress.

“Would you like a dessert?”

“No thank you.”

“Another cocktail?

“I think we’ll just take the bill.” And then turning to my wife I said, “Where were we?”

Failing to find the thread of our conversation, she shrugged. I’d been saying something or other, telling a story about this or that or who knows what, and for the life of me whatever it was vanished into thin air.

For years I’ve used the metaphor of butterfly nets to describe the skill of capturing ideas as they flit through our heads, capturing them and pinning them by writing them down. If I may use the over-worn expression, the weakest ink is stronger than the strongest memory.

But helium balloons seem an equally apt metaphor. When we value something — whether an idea or the thread of a conversation — we have to hold it securely while we have it in hand, or it will float away. Holding it securely means fastening it to something, tying it to a railing or to one’s wrist.

When we lose the train of thought, or the thread, we frequently respond by saying, “If it’s important it will come back.” Which leads me to this intriguing anecdote about the manner in which John Lennon and Paul McCartney wrote songs together.

I’ve been reading Paul McCartney: The Life by Philip Norman. In an early part of the book he shared how Paul and John collaborated when writing songs and generating tunes.

They developed the habit of creating songs together, but not writing them down. “If what we did was good, we’d remember it the next day. If we didn’t remember it, then it was left behind. We only wanted to keep songs that were memorable.” And as the world is well aware, they made plenty of them.

That notion possibly puts the kibosh on my helium balloon metaphor and makes the butterfly more apt. Helium balloons float off and don’t come back. Butterflies flit up close and away again, but can return repeatedly, almost daring us to pin them down.

And sometimes they may even dare to land on your nose.

An avid reader who writes about arts, culture, literature & other life obsessions. @ennyman3 Look for my books on Amazon https://tinyurl.com/y3l9sfpj

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