Before Fat Cat shipped off to the Army last year, I used to spend a couple of hours each morning at the local Starbucks to write while he watched the baby. Our Starbucks is barely a mile away, but it always took me 20 minutes to get there.
Just up the street, there’s this empty, odd little lane that runs behind some houses where there’s a great view of the mountains and the massive concrete curves of the freeway interchange. I used to park next to the same hardy sunflower plant, in this little pocket of peace in the middle of the neighborhood, the stereo turned up, my notepad and pen ready, and the windows rolled down. And I would wait.
And like sunshine in Southern California, they always showed up, surfing the breeze like dandelion seeds on a wish.
Sometimes they were minor in scope: topics for blog posts, lines of dialogue, metaphors — lots of metaphors. But just as often, they were substantial: short story ideas, novel ideas, series ideas, movie ideas, glimpses of some great, wonderous, epic potential, if only I would agree to put my hand in.
And they weren’t always related to writing. Business ideas, choreography ideas, song lyrics, costume design ideas, art concepts, photography concepts…you name it, they would find me. It seemed if ever an idea passed overhead and caught a whiff of me sitting by my happy lonesome with the windows rolled down and my mind and heart full of music and welcome, it would immediately drop into a barrel dive to crash-land right into my waiting notepad.
Now that Fat Cat is off being all he can be, I no longer visit my meditation spot. I miss it. But it’s just me and the Toddler right now, and not surprisingly, the Toddler has no patience with sitting in a parked car for 15 minutes for no apparent reason.
It’s okay though. As it turns out, it doesn’t matter where I am or what time it is…they still find me, they still seek me out. I just make sure I leave the window open for them.
Some of them show up late at night, sexy and full of intrigue, regaling me into the wee hours with grand promises of adventure. These are the trendy, cool, adventurer ideas with berets and trenchcoats, wine glasses and long, elegant cigarettes.
Sometimes they show up in the mornings, even if my window is closed against the chill. They are patient. They just huddle together along the sill waiting to fall into the warmth of the house when I hoist up the window. I welcome them like old friends though we’ve only just met.
But always they are there, tugging at my sleeve, waking me at night, interrupting me when I drive. I don’t know where they’re coming from…I only know that they are real, and that they have destinies and hopes and dreams just like we do. Only they have to depend on us to bring them to life, to draw them transformed from their cocoons. It is an awesome responsibility, and I take it seriously and humbly. I am grateful they have chosen me.
They put so much faith in me, allowing me to capture them on wrinkled napkins and uncountable Post-It notes, freeze them in stasis in digital folders labeled “Ideas,” knowing full well if I were to die before getting to them, that they would truly be lost, for even if someone else were to find them, they would be something else, children of a different parent.
If you think this sounds hopelessly romantic, a bit melodramatic, and a whole lot kooky, I don’t blame you. But this is how it is for me…and I am not unique in this regard.
In Elizabeth Gilbert’s fantastic, awesome, you-shouldn’t-miss-it, should-be-required-viewing-for-every-creative-person (read that: everybody) TED talk, she tells a story that has struck me as so wondrous and true and strangely familiar, I just have to share it with you.
Gilbert says: “I had this encounter recently where I met the extraordinary American poet Ruth Stone, who’s now in her 90s, but she’s been a poet her entire life. And she told me that when she was growing up in rural Virginia, she would be out working in the fields, and she said she would feel and hear a poem coming at her from over the landscape. And she said it was like a thunderous train of air. And it would come barreling down at her over the landscape. And she felt it coming, because it would shake the earth under her feet. She knew that she had only one thing to do at that point, and that was to, in her words, ‘run like hell.’ And she would run like hell to the house and she would be getting chased by this poem, and the whole deal was that she had to get to a piece of paper and a pencil fast enough so that when it thundered through her, she could collect it and grab it on the page. And other times she wouldn’t be fast enough, so she’d be running and running and running, and she wouldn’t get to the house and the poem would barrel through her and she would miss it and she said it would continue on across the landscape, looking, as she put it ‘for another poet.’ And then there were these times — this is the piece I never forgot — she said that there were moments where she would almost miss it, right? So, she’s running to the house and she’s looking for the paper and the poem passes through her, and she grabs a pencil just as it’s going through her, and then she said, it was like she would reach out with her other hand and she would catch it. She would catch the poem by its tail, and she would pull it backwards into her body as she was transcribing on the page. And in these instances, the poem would come up on the page perfect and intact, but backwards, from the last word to the first.”
When I first heard this story, I cried. I did. It strikes something soft and tender and deeply cherished inside of me. It reminds me that I have a duty — that we all have a duty, an obligation to these motes of inspiration that seek us out. Even though my files brim with their cut-and-pasted bodies waiting for their first breath of air and queue is long and unending, they still come and I still welcome them…and I still work hard for them. They know this, and that is why they still line up. They are putting their faith and trust and hope into me, and I owe it to them to get to each and every one of them. For all the love and passion and possibility and life they inject in me, I owe them my best, and I believe that together we can make something epic and long-lasting.
I imagine that at some future date, I will have to make arrangements for the ones at the end of the queue. Perhaps there will be some sort of karmic recycling when I pass from this Earth, give those little guys a second chance with the next generation of up and coming. I hope so. But just in case, I’m writing as fast as I can.