A Pacific Coast Highway Idea gets in the way of the book
Thirteen years ago, when I was working in Cambridge for a doomed online service owned by Rupert Murdoch, I used to get early-morning calls from one of my bosses. He lived in California and he would bark instructions to me via a shaky mobile phone connection while he drove via the Pacific Coast Highway to his pre-dawn surf group. Usually, he would suggest I do whatever he had just thought up in the car. He’d never remember after the call was over, I’d never follow up, the next day he’d have another idea, and the pattern continued for months until my job moved to Manhattan and I didn’t. My colleagues and I would call these ideas “Pacific Coast Highway Ideas,” notions that seemed like genius for a brief moment, then something else would come up.
I had what I think was a Pacific Coast Highway moment today. The past few weeks I’ve been listening a lot to a great obscure soul singer and songwriter whose work I love (and have celebrated in print — and, long ago, on this very blog) and whose work, recorded over more than 40 years for what seems like more than 40 labels, really deserves to be collected in a thoughtful, fun box set. While I was in the car this afternoon, I heard, unexpectedly, a fine profile of that singer on public radio. It was, I determined based on mere coincidence, a sign that I needed to produce that box set right away. Within the hour, I called a few people for advice, connected with a likely record company, and found the guy’s email address. (Yes, obscure soul singers do have email addresses.)
I just told some of this to Jane, who — while being generally supportive — pointed out that producing another box set, while satisfying, would be easy compared to the novel I’m trying to write. The book I’m constructing from scratch; the box set would be made of materials someone else has created over a long, fascinating career. The hard work would have been done already — by someone else. Most of the creativity involved in the project would have been expended long ago. Maybe I’ll do the box set someday, maybe I won’t. But, thanks to Jane’s 10,000th intervention, tonight I won’t let a Pacific Coast Highway Idea get in the way of a riskier but potentially more fulfilling creative endeavor. And now it’s time to stop blogging and start real writing.