Saturday was one of those days where I spent all of my time trekking around the universe solely for my kids’ events. The morning was spent at the baseball field to participate with my son in the parade of nearly 300 boys and girls who are playing in the league this season. As we stood there listening to the league president introduce all of the local political dignitaries who came out to give non-partisan encouragement to the kids and as we shivered in the brisk, blustery breeze while standing ankle-deep in the mud left in the wake of Friday’s torrential downpours, I watched the kids and coaches as we lined the field. I watched the parents, families and friends in the stands who were taking pictures or video of the event. Some of us on the field were standing very still, braced against the cold and intent on listening to the speeches. Some of us were moving slightly, shifting our weight back and forth in an inadequate attempt to stay warm or fighting the urge to dive head-first into the muddy infield because… well, because that’s what 6-12 year old kids want to do. Some people laughed and some just chatted with their neighbors. It was clearly a very nice baseball moment for our league as we get set for a long season.
But suddenly, I was transported to a scene where we weren’t baseball players, we were a rag-tag band of fighters, gearing up and organizing for the last-gasp battle of our rebellion against the evil Occupiers who took over the land. Baseball bats became swords and battle axes, The different colored uniforms indicated our different origins, while the consistency of the black hat worn by all signified our unity. The younger warriors among us danced nervously from side to side as they tried to convince themselves that going off to battle was the right thing to do. Worried parents stood on the outside, wondering how different their son or daughter would be upon returning from battle. The wind causing the flag behind us to snap and crackle as our generals talked to us about the long journey ahead helped to solidify the picture, as did the helicopter which flew by just a little bit away from us.
The setting for this story was very clear for me, though I didn’t actually get to the point of having a plot develop because just as I started to do so the speeches were over and I had to shift back into “coach” mode to ensure that the kids – all decked out in their clean, white baseball pants – didn’t walk through the mud and standing water as they left the field.
Later that same day, I was sitting in the high school parking lot waiting for my daughter to return from a Jazz Band Festival. The bus took a wrong turn coming home, so they were 40 minutes later than expected. I sat there waiting, staring out across the parking lot and over to the football field and track where people were walking their dogs or jogging. As the daylight began to fade to dusk there was only a single person walking. They had a dog leash in one hand and a bag of some sort on their other shoulder. As the person and the dog walked incredibly slowly in the dimming light, the quiet of the situation filled my mind with an image of a single person setting out on a quest to find a neighboring village. I concocted a scenario in which this person’s home village had been decimated—by war, by illness, by drought or flood… I don’t know what—and this was the last survivor of a proud people, now seeking help from a neighboring village they weren’t even sure they could find. Once again, I didn’t get the full plot of the story, just the general outline of it, the kernel of inspiration.
This is where story ideas have always come from for me. I might see something out of the corner of my eye and mistake it for something else. Or I might hear a faint sound from the distance which triggers a memory. The moonlight on a partly-cloudy night can cast shadows which generate visions of other-worldly scenarios. Inspiration is all around me, it seems, I just need to be open to seeing it. Sometimes that is the most difficult part of writing – being willing to accept the ideas that come to you when you are least able to do anything about them.
At least that’s how it works for me. How does it work for you? Do your ideas come from whatever is going on around you or does inspiration come to you in a different way?