Between the ages of seven and ten, I read at least fifty Nancy Drew mysteries. By my fifth or sixth book, I had decided that I wanted to be just like Nancy Drew.
It wasn't her titian colored hair (or even the fact that she used words like titian). I had never been partial to red hair of any shade. It certainly wasn't her wardrobe. I wouldn't have been caught dead in a smart beige suit or a green lawn dress. Her blue convertible was pretty cool, but I wasn't all that into cars. I admired the fact that she was dating an older boy (even if he did have a silly name like Ned Nickerson), and I liked that she kept stringing him along book after book and never let him tie her down. These things were interesting and made Nancy who she was -- but they didn't make me want to be her.
The thing that enthralled me about Nancy was one line that was repeated, book after book:
"Nancy stood there, lost in thought."
I used to read that sentence as a kid and think, "What would it be like to be 'lost in thought'?"
I pictured Nancy's mind as a labyrinth of filing cabinets, filled with knowledge, observations, and information. I pictured Nancy wandering the halls of her own mind leafing through those files, remembering, organizing, devising, and theorizing, literally lost in the sheer massiveness of her own brain.
Other times, I pictured Nancy, sitting in a plush armchair in a vast library, the walls of her mind lined floor to ceiling with bookshelves. She sat there quietly, her hand stroking her chin, thinking deep thoughts about -- I didn't know what. And this is what inspired me.
I was desperate to understand how one could think at such a depth and to such a degree that one could become oblivious to the outside world. I just had to learn this secret and, if at all possible, become "lost in thought" myself.
I made some attempts at becoming lost in thought by simply assuming the pose. I'd stand with a finger on my lips, stare off into space, and ignore people on purpose when they called my name. Then I'd say, "I'm sorry. Were you talking to me? I didn't hear you." But I wasn't fooling anyone -- least of all myself. I knew my mind was a shameful blank. One could not get lost in a forest with only one tree.
Years went by. Nancy Drew slipped into my subconscious and camped there. As a teenager, I no longer idolized Nancy Drew per se; but the idea of her never left me entirely. Always I was propelled to read more, write more, think more, in hope that one day I might find myself lost in thought.
After high school, I kept reading and writing, but I also got married and had five babies in rapid succession. ("Rapid succession" is another phrase I learned from Nancy Drew books.) My days were full of highchairs and carseats, diaper bags and strollers, bottles and teething rings. I had little sleep and less recreation.
The one thing I did for myself in those early years of motherhood was take a non-fiction writing class. It was just a snail-mail correspondence class, not even for college credit. But it gave my mind something to do during countless hours of washing dishes, folding laundry, nursing babies, and driving carpool. I'd plan and outline essays in my head while my hands were busy with these "mindless" tasks. Then, during nap times or Sesame Street, I'd put pen to paper and write the essays down.
One day, as I was stirring something on the stove, I was suddenly aware of a little voice at my knee.
"Mummy, can I?"
"Mummy, can I?"
"Can you what?"
"Have some juice. I just asked you and you weren't listening to me."
"Oh, I'm sorry, Sweetie. Mummy was just..."
A feeling of profound satisfaction washed over me in that instant. I was wearing sweatpants instead of a smart beige suit, and I drove a grey station wagon instead of a blue convertible. But in the only way that mattered, I was Nancy Drew. I had been really and truly lost in thought over a pot of simmering chili.
During the years that have followed that moment, I'm afraid I've taken my inner Nancy Drew to the brink of dementia. My thoughts are so talkative, that I can sit in a room or a car full of people for hours and be unaware of the fact that I haven't spoken a single word out loud. My mind frequently abandons conversations with other people, leaving my mouth to cover for it, while it wanders off to do more interesting things. When I arrive home from a long drive, I often make a bee line for a notebook so I can record strings of sentences invisibly composed during the trip before I forget them. I get lost in thought so easily these days that I have to make a conscious effort to re-engage with the physical world around me.
I'm not sure that being like Nancy Drew is all I imagined it would be when I was seven. I am beginning to understand why Nancy only had two friends, never bought new clothes, and was unable to make a lasting commitment to poor Ned. Still, as my own children read volumes 35, 40, and 45 of Nancy Drew's mysteries, I find myself watching them eagerly for signs of absent-mindedness. I wouldn't mind if a few of them grew up to have minds that have a mind of their own.
At the very least, maybe one of them will own a blue convertible someday. I think I would be OK with that too.