Stuff and fluff

by Susan Writer. 0 Comments

It happens to me all too often, and even my daily dose of fish oil doesn’t seem to help.

A fragment of inspiration flits into my brain, and I don’t do the smart thing and write it down. Ten or eleven hours later, when I finally find a room quiet enough to share with my laptop, my thoughts, and my chronic tinnitus, I couldn’t tell you what the marvelous moment was. Poof! It’s vanished the way of so many earth-moving concepts that tickle the imagination for a fleeting instant and then move on. Why and how does this happen?

Brain function is a vast and vital area of study. Hardly a week goes by without an online article catching my eye about the latest findings collected by some brilliant research team somewhere — usually in Scandinavia — that reveal why we do what we do or don’t do. But I have my own hypothesis about how the human brain works.

It’s like a giant pillow.

Think about it. Because they’re so small and pliable, you can keep cramming feathers and down into a tightly woven fabric shell. The diminutive quills may prick you a bit, yet when mixed with a hardy supply of cloud soft down, you can get an enormous amount of the little buggers in a hollow cotton rectangle before they start to stick out and the seams begin to strain.

In my analogy, each feather and puff of down represents a morsel of information requiring storage. Faces and the names that go with them; an ever growing collection of phone numbers (we all have several, it seems); who played Tessio in The Godfather; ? is 3.14 when rounded; properly cooked chicken registers 160°F. The list goes on and on.

We accumulate thousands, maybe millions of these minute pieces of wadding over a lifetime. Sometimes, under extreme pressure, the case begins to bulge, the zipper jams, the seam gives way, and suddenly there’s an explosion of feathers that float away on the gentlest breeze, forever lost and wandering.

Fortunately, such cataclysms are fairly rare — regardless of how we may feel Monday mornings. No, what most of us regularly experience is stuffing shrinkage of a much less dramatic nature. The result of the ordinary wear and tear of daily life, this more mundane decline of volume is similar to what happens when you remove an outer pillowcase. There, on the inner sheath you find a dozen or so waifs have worked their way out, and before you can halt their feathery descent, they somehow wedge themselves deep in the pile of the bedroom carpet, mysteriously resistant to the reach of the mightiest vacuum. They’re still around, just not much use anymore. Try as you will, and try as you might to shove the runaways back into their proper place, they stubbornly refuse to cooperate.

Even when you are able to coax them inside the pillow again, it’s an imperfect repair at best. Like the snippets of our great unpreserved inspirations and those nagging incomplete thoughts, these resentful returnees invariably arrange themselves in such a way as to poke and annoy you all night long, as disruptive to proper rest as a forgotten line from a favorite song that haunts you throughout your waking hours.

Although my modest theory makes perfect sense to me, it isn’t terribly scientific or entirely original. Its truest and perhaps only proof, like its inspiration, lies in the claims of everyone who ever called me “feather brained.” It seems my own philosophy proves them right.


Susan Writer pens a regular column for and is one of The Frederick News-Post’s Board of Contributors. She can be reached at

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