Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Falling into ideas

Did you know...a landscape feature that is a deep trench abutting a wall is called a Ha-Ha?  I didn't know that, but I read about these "sunken fences" recently in this wonderful blog post at the site Jane Austen's World: Maintaining the grounds of a landed British estate.  Apparently, as the post informs, it is so-named "because, as the myth goes, this landscape feature was so well hidden that an unsuspecting visitor would blurt out “ha-ha!” before falling into the trench." 

Hmm.  Really?  That's what he (or she) would say?  Oh, I think not.  I imagine I would say something other than "ha-ha!" if I fell into a trench!  In fact, I know exactly what would be said because...well, trust me, I just know.  Not only can I identify with that "unsuspecting visitor," I am that walking (and then not!) disaster who would fall into a trench. 

Most recently, just last Friday on my college campus, I did it again (the walking and then not bit).   I blame distraction.  I mean really, how can you look where you're going when your mind is busy memorizing scientific names?  (Seriously.  You try thinking Eutrochium maculatum and walk in a straight line.)  I also blame a weak ankle re-injured when I fell off a ladder a few weeks ago (how'd that happen?).   So, on this day before class, instead of taking a sidewalk (perhaps another contributing factor), I took a shortcut down a bank very similar to the grass-sloped side of the Ha-Ha.  It was a shortcut to down anyway.  My ankle turned and down I went, meeting up with the sidewalk at the bottom of the bank. 

I did not say "ha-ha!" 

But I don't suppose you can name a landscape feature after what I said.  I also quickly said, "I'm okay!"  Because if there's one thing I've learned (from years as a klutz), it's important to reassure bystanders.  Kind of a post-falling etiquette.  But in the seventeenth or eighteenth century, when apparently people first started falling into these man-made trenches, I guess the name "I'm okay!" didn't catch on either. 

But if "ha-ha!" wasn't said, I imagine the "unsuspecting visitor" who fell in the Ha-Ha might very well have heard  "ha-ha!" as he (or she) lay dazed on the ground looking up at the sky.   Even I have to admit witnessing the fall of a klutz might elicit a laugh.  It's a human reaction.  Hopefully it's not malicious, but as the "fallee" (is that a word for the one who has fallen?), I certainly have a moment when I think the "gods" or "fate" or surely someone must be laughing.  So maybe the unsuspecting visitor who fell into the Ha-Ha heard laughter.  A wood sprite or faery perhaps?

And just like that, by reading about the Ha-Ha and identifying so strongly with the "unsuspecting visitor" who fell in the trench I'm beginning to have a scene in my mind.  The scene is when I know I have an idea.  I hadn't thought of it quite so literally before, but I'm falling into this idea.  It's kind of a one-two punch.

1)  First, like experiencing a fall, something unexpected interrupts my routine.  Its occurrence always happens when I'm doing or looking for something else.  But this in itself is not a story idea and is easy to overlook.  It's just ordinary.  Even a series of "bad day" events, is not particularly romance novel inspiring.  (Stop the presses.  No story here!)

 2)  But soon after the first occurrence, something connects the ordinary with something a bit extraordinary and I'm tempted.  It sounds odd, but it's almost like picking up the threads of unfinished business.  My subconscious is on the lookout to do something more with the ordinary.  So it's not too surprising I notice the Ha-Ha reference in the article.  I'm tempted and curious and vested in that unknown character, the "unsuspecting visitor" who fell in the Ha-Ha trench.  Darn it, us klutzes need to stick together!  

It doesn't seem like much to begin with, but I know if I write the scene, it will grow and surprise me.  It's a good idea to get back to because it's connected.  Plot?  I'll get there.  The setting in mind is historical and an English manor house is just beyond the recessed wall.  The tone?  Sinister?  Humorous?  I'm not sure.  If I choose, my accident prone tendencies of late, for instance, can be expressed in a not so serious manner.  Who gets the worries? My poor heroine, of course!  The setting of course will change and the mundane events and facts will alter. This is the fun part. I can change it, embellish it, make it worse, and then fix it.

And, living vicariously through my character, *I* become a very beautiful klutz of course. *grin*  Ha-ha!


  1. What a great post! I laughed out loud so many times. And I'm definitely with you -- I would NOT be saying "ha-ha" if I fell in a trench. LOL It would be something that started out with "Oh", and ended with something else entirely.

    You're right about your unconscious wanting to do something MORE with the ordinary. I love how ideas are always bumping into each other inside my brain, and somehow they find a perfect match, which sparks the idea, as you said.

    Thanks for giving me lots of ha-ha moments today. :)

    1. Thanks, Donna! At the very least, the fall and the Ha-Ha inspired a blog post. I'm glad you enjoyed it and got a chuckle here and there! It makes my accident-prone tendencies worthwhile! LOL

  2. It is a funny name for a landscape feature though I hadn't heard that explanation of the name Ha-Ha before!

    I think Lancelot Brown made them popular with large country estates. They provide an invisible transition between garden and meadow so that the two blend seamlessly in the eye. Practically, they keep grazing animals out of the garden and two-legged browsers out of the meadow .... in theory! LOL

    Not sure who invented them but the concept might have its origin in Roman times (Hadrian's Wall) or Medieval (Offa's Dyke).

    I have never fallen over a Ha-Ha but in a similar vein I do remember browsing in a college library and absently trying to walk through a glass divide. I didn't say Ha-Ha, but something much mor colourful (and unprintable!) LOL

    1. Thanks for your insight, Q! :) I spent a few years in England about 20 years ago and this is one of those neat historical trivia things I wish I'd paid attention to while I was there. It does make aesthetic sense to have the invisible transition, but I still think it's funny to think how this advantage could be a disadvantage for the absentminded! LOL


My Blog List