Hitchhiking in the Underground

Coining a term like FOMO can be challenging. How do I come up with a new word? My rational thinking above ground mind is not going to be useful. Taking a breath and surrendering to my intuition a single word appears.


At first this play is conscious, maybe even a bit forced. I am still above ground. The underground awaits. The underground awaits us.

Let’s play.

Hearing this refrain may leave you asking, “How?”

Reflecting on my childhood, make-believe jumps out as the answer. I put out my thumb. I am going to hitchhike into my subconscious, into the underground.

Getting a haircut during Write of Passage, a cohort based online writing course, may be the most brilliant thing I ever did. Reactions vary from “Looking sharp dude” to “I am still getting used to this new you.” 

“There is a story there in your hair cut,” one woman says.

I immediately think – hair story. People’s reaction to your haircut. Your own reaction to your haircut. A story of perception. Stories of embarrassment and empowerment.

I bring this coined term to the Feedback Gym. Working in pairs we silently read each other’s essay and then give spoken feedback. I am paired with gym runner Michael Dean. He is exploring the term newsletter junkyard, a folder where he files everyone’s newsletter. His piece is filled with playful language – slang parrots, corporate hucksters, escalatory robots.

This playfulness leads to hair story collapsing into hairstory. The individual story of hair shifts to the collective story of hair. As in American Hairstory or WWII Hairstory. The history of anything told through hair.

Sketch and words by author

During the silent hour of the Writing Gym I was doodling. I have doodled more since a writing mentor asked us at the beginning of the session to draw our faces without looking at the paper. Looking at a small triangle shape I wonder if it is a nose or a sailboat. It’s a noseboat of course! I write:

Is it a nose or a sailboat? Oh, it’s a noseboat of course. The smell of the sea. The smell of travel. Travel begins with the senses. The nose leads the way.

Slowly out of my mind tumble grumple doors (a sound play on Gryffindor from the Harry Potter books), niggle noors (no idea) and button drawers. And something is unleashed. I dub it the Dean effect or being in the Dean field, after Michael Dean.

A flash of memory comes. I am sitting with a friend in his pale blue 1971 MG-B in the high school parking lot. We joke that from this point forward no matter what happens in our life we will always be in this car in this parking lot.

Photo taken by Crow

I realize my hitchhiking in the underground started inside the MG-B, but as the make-believe becomes real I find myself on a bus.

There is more room now.

The inside of the bus is covered in graffiti. The walls, the floor, the ceiling are covered in words – coined terms.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge.”

Albert Einstein

This is not real in an everyday sense. And yet it is. Everyday reality is inside a larger non-ordinary reality. I surrender and release to mystery. I am not merely stepping sideways into a daydream. I am walking into that which surrounds and sustains us.

Sketch by author

Looking at the walls of the bus I start writing a list of coined terms. 

“I am making shit up. Words hop, skip, and jump. They rhyme, they don’t rhyme. Mind zip zap zops. I make doodles and oodles. I giggle. I frown. I play.”

Shirley Rivera

I combine something from nature with another term and get tree consciousness, wave thoughts, sun dreams, and water poems.

I switch to animals and get cat tea and bird leash.

I love books and looking at the stars and thus bookstronomy is born.

A relative is off to have a colonoscopy and I am sitting in my library. I become sillier and arrive at colophonic. Yes, a book colophon combined with a colonic for a colonoscopy. 

The coined phrases fall off the wall onto the journal page almost faster than I can write.

The list continues with lawn showers, golden hours become purple hours which tease at rainbow hours, blue sours, lost ours (a play on lost hours and lost intimacy), abundance aversion and loss attraction (playing with opposites), JODE (joy of doing everything), JOJO (joy of jumping out/off), phonehenge (a time in the far future when archaeologists wonder what cell phones are), the cook’s cookies, and the writer’s eraser.

Artwork by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, water color, 1940

In a mentor session I am asked  to find the essence in my essay, the shiny dime. Focus on the shiny dime and the emotion it evokes. When I arrive at the feeling, I may also arrive at my coined term. I reverse engineer since I already have a list of terms. Picking bookstronomy I write:

The Little Prince, sailing on a sea of stars, pulls out his telescope and looks down through the seaweed to see an underwater palace of books. The Little Prince has always loved stars and books.

During the same mentor session, I am in a breakout room where fellow students are struggling to come up with a single coined term. I suggest playing around and read some of mine.

This sparks a new way of playing.

Make up something using a last name. What about the Tillotson Effect or the Pimental Pivot? Or use someone famous – the Feynman Hypothesis, which is something about how the 12 Favorite Problems work.

You can get snarky. “Oh he is so DKC.” There is the Dunning-Kruger Effect, where a person who knows little about a subject feels really knowledgeable. DKC is Dunning-Kruger Confidence. A false confidence where the person is full of hot air. 

Artwork by Philip Mendoza, watercolor, 1966

This playful mood infuses my day. Like Alice following the rabbit underground I find myself in an amusing, creative and topsy-turvy space where I am hitchhiking in the underground. Catching a ride into my subconscious. Riding the rails of non-ordinary reality.

I arrive at an underground river where I must pay the ferryman to cross. I offer a coined term and step aboard. Looking up I see the Little Prince looking down through a telescope.

1 Comment

  1. Phenomenal. A trip I’m so glad I took today – abundance aversion, JODE, phonehenge, the writer’s eraser, DKC. Thank you for these moments of fun and joy. 🙂


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