After a couple years without one, I’ve just joined a new writing group. At the end of our first meeting, two of us chatted about our backgrounds as we headed toward the metro station.
Among other things, I told her I’d been born in a village of a couple hundred people… Had been plunged into a new culture and language as a teenager… That my parents had run a non-profit supply organization in Africa.
“How have all those things influenced your writing?” my new friend asked.
“My… My writing?”
“Umm…” I hesitated, scrambling for an answer. I’ve been writing for a while. You’d think I’d have given that question some thought.
Apparently not. Wow.
I mumbled something inadequate and we parted ways. But as I threaded my way through the crowd toward my train, her question stuck with me.
“How have life-events influenced your writing? How have life-events influenced your writing? How have—”
I’m in the waiting room of the Hockey Quebec office. There’s no one behind the reception desk, so I sit down and pull out my book. With any luck, I’ll have the next hour to myself.
My luck runs out quickly.
“Have you been helped?” asks a man.
“Yes,” I say with a bright smile. “Thank you.”
He smiles, too, and walks away.
I return to my book—and read a whole page before I’m interrupted again.
“May I help you?” It’s a woman this time.
“Oh no,” I say, shaking my head. “I’m good.”
She smiles and leaves.
Two more people come by. Same question. Same smile.
As fascinating as it is,1 I obviously won’t be able to read my book. What else could I do?
Then I remember. I have homework. My creativity assignment2 this week is to observe an event and then imagine as many possible explanations for it as I can. I look around for inspiration… then notice my shoes. I grab my notebook and begin scribbling:
Why is this woman wearing such crappy shoes?
She has no others. Her feet have inexplicable grown from eating a magic bean. Or maybe it’s a curse of some sort.
Someone stole all her shoes… and replaced them with these.
The airline lost her suitcase. She was wearing slippers on the plane. In desperation, she dug these out of the trash can.
It’s therapy. She’s addicted to fashion and her therapist gave her homework: to wear something old. Her stomach is twisted in knots. What will people think of her?
She’s sick of winter. Sick of wearing boots. But there are still piles of snow and slush everywhere, so she wears her oldest shoes.
She’s actually a bazillionaire, but doesn’t want people to know it, so she dresses down. Way down.
She’s homeless and has no other shoes. She has snuck in to stay warm.
She’s R.E.D. (Retired and Extremely Dangerous) and in hiding. In this get-up, no one will ever recognize her.
I continue on until I have a dozen possibilities, then I close my notebook. That was fun. And unlike other events I could have chosen, I know the real reason the woman is wearing those crappy shoes. Number 5 is the truth. I keep those shoes for this time of year. It’s officially spring, but there’s still snow and slush and ice where I live. I’m sick of winter. Sick of winter boots. I refuse to wear them. So I keep this pair of tennis shoes for this time of year. I don’t care (much) what people will think.
The Formula: The Universal Laws of Success by Albert-Lászió Barabási in case you’re interested.
Hat Tip to The Creativity Book by Eric Maisel for this creativity assignment.
I love books. Libraries and bookstores make me want to veer off course and settle in. Forget camping out in the woods. I would happily roll out my sleeping bag and spend a few days indoors checking out book titles.
I didn’t always have that option, though (Not that I do now. No one’s ever invited me to a sleep over in a library or bookstore.) What I mean is that libraries and bookstores have not always been options. As a kid, I lived in a small town of a couple hundred people. It had one-room school, a church, a community center, and a general store that was also the post office and the gas station. Have you heard the joke about a town so small that someone drove through it, then stopped on the other side to ask where it was? It happened to friends of ours. True story.
Because there weren’t many kids my age, books became my friends. One day, I got my hands on a small black book with fine print. I climbed up a tree on my uncle’s farm and began to read… and couldn’t stop. I was mesmerized. What was the book? Greek mythology. And as an adult, I’ve enjoyed the Percy Jackson series. Not the same but loads of fun.
I saw The Wizard of Oz on TV when I was six or seven and hid behind a chair because the flying monkeys freaked me out. But later on, I loved the books. Yes books, plural. Did you know there are sixteen sequels? I read them all. Four times. I know because by this time we’d moved to a bigger town. One with a library. I’d go twice a week and come home with four or five books. Checking out books meant writing your library card number on a paper stuck in a pocket at the back of the book. My favorites had my number several times in a row: 4222 (Why do I still remember that?). In any case, I was flabbergasted that no one else wanted to read them.
When I got a little older, I decided I really should read the “classics.” Not knowing what the classics were, I wandered around the library and came across Dracula, Frankenstein, andDr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Classics of a sort, and I loved them all… although I confess the first half of Dracula was a slog. I liked the second half so much, though, that I went on a streak of reading vampire stories. And yes, as an adult, I read Twilight. But only the first one.
All that to say that I love books. The best stories make me laugh and cry both. They make me think and might even scare me a little. I’m always on the lookout for more. Especially great books for young teens. If you have any to suggest, I’d love to hear.