Next door lives a woman who is 103 years old. Born in 1910, when William Taft was president, the Boy Scouts of America was founded, and Mark Twain died.
When she was able to communicate, which she did quite well up until a few months ago, I used to love to hear her tell of earlier days, how it used to be in this town we’ve been living in for about fifteen years. Like when the circus came and elephants walked down Broad Street in the procession, followed by tigers, lions, and clowns. She said at the back of our house there used to be a pecan grove, and every fall folks came to pick up pecans. Some would climb the trees, shake them while the others stood waiting with burlap sacks. Downtown also had the quintessential drug store with a soda fountain where you could purchase orangeade, lemonade, or fountain drinks. They cost a nickel.
The other day I opened up the newspaper, and saw an article about a woman who’d been homeless for three years, how she used to have a job, a place to live, and now had nothing, a downward slide that was perpetuated initially by drug use.
I went shopping to get groceries and saw a man with one leg missing, walking with crutches, along our busiest road. He would pause every now and then and wipe his brow. After a minute or two, he’d go another twenty feet or so, stop, wipe his brow, and move on. When I came out of the store, I had made up my mind to ask him if he needed help, but he was nowhere to be found. I actually drove past my street looking to see if I could spot him. As slow as he was going, I was surprised at his “disappearance.” I suppose someone might have given him a lift, but I was still curious about him, his circumstances.
Finally, I was standing in the yard, and here comes the guy I call our own Forest Gump, on his old fashioned turquoise and white bike. His dress is impeccable, pressed khaki shorts, crisply starched shirt, straw hat, bright white socks (pulled up to his calves) and shiny black shoes. (not that I consider white socks and black shoes impeccable, but on him, that’s the only word that fits) He’s always polite, gives a nod, and a “how do ma’am,” as he pedals by.
Why am I going on and on about these observations? Because for me, as a writer, I’m always looking for ideas for a new story, and I see the possibilities all around. But inspiration doesn’t have to come as a full blown story idea. There are the smaller moments, the fine tuning of a scene that can come by way of a leaf falling to the ground, the drip of rain off off the roof, the scent of dirt in a plowed field, the heat of the sun baking the grass dry, or the breeze that comes from the west.
For writers, the steady, persistent habit of observation, of listening to how people communicate and interact, our obsessive watching of the world is what provides inspiration. It’s the ability to take what we’ve seen, heard, smelled or touched, and use it to the best of our ability, to take the ordinary or commonplace, and find something remarkable about it, and share that with others.
Where do you look for inspiration?