I always find it interesting when a writer tells me he's having problems finding story ideas. The world far and near is a wild and strange and scary and beautiful place, full of people and things and events fascinating and/or bizarre. Therefore my problem is consistently the opposite -- having too many ideas rattling around inside my head, battling for enough of my attention and time to be written down well.
These thoughts have been resounding deeply in me lately as I prepare my mother's house for sale. She passed away a few years ago, and I've finally contracted to sell her house. Part of that effort includes sifting through the things my parents accumulated over decades of traveling and living around the world, deciding what to keep, what to sell, and what to donate to charities. I spend time every day wandering alone through the house's three stories, all still full of furniture and furnishings, clocks and rugs and art. Contemplating each of these objects, or sitting in a particular chair, or hearing the sonorous chimes of my Dad's grandfather clock, all remind me how very slippery time is, and how powerful is the simple act of remembering. All those things whisper to me as I meander through the house. They gently prod me to recall where they came from, and how and why they were chosen to help transform the initially barren and impersonal places my parents lived into the warm, loving homes in which they nurtured their children and grandchildren.
I posted a little while ago about finding a small cache of very old letters my Mom kept her whole life. ("A Dying Art and a Broken Heart," below.) As I write this post, I'm looking at an ancient Arabian musket my Dad brought home from one leg of his incessant travels when I was a kid. The rifle is easily five feet long, and its ancient silver plating is ornate with lettering and decorations woven around and between intricate inlays fashioned in mother-of-pearl. It's as much art as weapon, if not more so. The scents of people, places and centuries long past wafts from every inch of it. Touching the gun, I imagine him in the late 1960s in north Africa, a man younger than I am now, his constant journeys making him ever a man in a suitcase. I can see the steam that curls up from the chipped cup of hot, spiced tea held steady in his strong fingers to fog the thick lenses of his black-rimmed glasses. I can hear him haggling in three languages with an itinerant Bedouin antique dealer under the lazy sway of inattentive palm trees towering overhead, desert breezes murmuring primeval secrets through their moonlit fronds.
Some of that Saharan snippet is true. Looking at the musket, I remember my Dad telling me how he came to own the gun. The rest is made up, inspired as much by what I don't remember as what I do. And as I let the compelling imagery my father infused in my young mind all those years ago start to percolate in the same mind now rendered broader and wiser by an additional four decades of tribulations and triumphs, new story ideas will begin to seep into my daydreams and nightmares. In my experience, it's inevitable.
Writers are storytellers. For any storyteller writer worth his salt, every house is full of stories eager to be told. All you have to do is hear them, season them, write them, and share them.
"In every dream home a heartache."
~~ Bryan Ferry ~~