Thread of Thought [Creative Non-Fiction]

This is creative non-fiction by Toti O’Brien. 

Listen to the voice speaking solely, signaling itself as unique, de-encapsulating itself from the magma of interwoven thoughts. The only difference between the voice and the magma is this peculiar persistency, this wish for continuity. Not yet continuity. Just an inclination, a bias, as for dust tending to become lint—assemblages of matter, inconsistent and tiny, wanting to stick together if precariously.

Listen to the voice and its pretense of lead-taking, its thirst for authority. Authorship as a claim to responsibility. Claim to personality. Right to vote, though no right of birth can be proved yet. No citizenship.

Listen to the arrogance of the voice in spite of its chronic weakness—it will be erased, dissipated, if I simply turn the other way. Listen well because the voice is thin, because lint is volatile.


Know there will be time allowed for the voice to be written down. Visualize such time as fragments. Visualize such time as lint collected with a broom, pushed into a corner. Little mound, still extremely frail, yet more conspicuous. Other matters will force me to leave the broom against the wall, shielding barely its gathered booty of nothingness. Hope for a sudden draft not to dispel it.

Do not doubt the lint’s right to be. Do not abuse its precariousness. Visualize a time to write it down, spinning the fluffy mass into rough thread, unpleasant to the fingers. Sharp and wounding in its great impurity. Do not judge the quality of the thread. Not my task. Spinning it is my task, responding to its urge for connectivity.


Yet keep figuring out the spinning time as fragments, situating them as close as possible to the ground. Carpets, grass, sand, the bare floor. If such casualness isn’t allowed, try at least to avoid excess elevation. Doorsills, steps, stones are acceptable. Garden benches. A low sofa, a small stool. Stay away from tables and desks, sturdy chairs. Keep notebook, pad, paper, on my body—lap, thighs, knees… Don’t type.

Make writing as archaic as it is. As the current president of the United Sates finds the Constitution to be. Make writing archaic, yet make it constitutional. Meaning unavoidable—its origins lost in time.

Remember when, not yet four, I dipped long bamboo sticks into the gutter, then drew patterns on stone, astonished and awed, mesmerized by the magic. I am writing, I said to myself, not sure of what it meant, yet certain that the term applied to my gestures, to the reed in my hand, the dipping, the tracing. To the majesty of nature—here’s a kind of tree, there is a muddy river. I am in between, soaked with pride, and a fear for punishment to come.

Such impermanence—the sun drying up the marks as soon as they are formed. Such inherent volubility.


Make the writing as fast as possible, as messy as possible. Be hurried, yet not to end. Make the writing unfinished.

Always manage improper equipment. Hard-to-handle pens, unpleasant to write with. My supply of paper too small. See it wind down at uncomfortable speed. Write in circles, write backwards, write between the lines. Fill the covers, try to write on the spine. Scramble in my purse for old receipts, paper napkins, no matter which color.

Make my writing so unreadable, I will have to scan through with a laser. I will have to X-ray it when, after a break, I’ll try to resume it.

Make sure of frequent and abrupt interruptions. Leave words broken, verdicts suspended. Forget all about it. Still know it is somewhere, quietly waiting— the voice reassured it will be heard.


Leave it in uncanny places, around and about. After all, having scribbled it so badly is a plus. No one will be tempted to decipher it. What is this? Is it yours? Oh yes… play nonchalant. Feign indifference. After all I am not lying. I was jotting notes.

Leave it anywhere, then imitate my grandmother in her latest years, as she wandered through the house, hunting for the in-progress doily she couldn’t locate any more. You keep dropping it, Grandma. You are so careless. Here it is, behind the TV. Wait, the pen—the crochet—fell off. What are you making? What is this long strip for?

She chuckles. Either she doesn’t know or doesn’t want to tell. She shuffles away, holding her thing so loosely I’m afraid she’ll drop it again without noticing. Looking for the glasses she might have left on her bed stand. For her kerchief. I ask myself how she can remember the meticulous pattern she’s crocheting—a thin hieroglyph, finely wrought—if she gets so distracted. Oblivious, her mind scattered, her attention nowhere.

Manage to get plenty of distractions. Learn from my grandmother.

Toti O’Brien’s work has most recently appeared in Sandy River Review, Colorado Boulevard, Typehouse Magazine, and Biostories.

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