Picture us sitting in a cafe. You with a friend, say, or maybe a few friends, sipping coffee, eating cherry pie (a la mode) and talking, talking, talking. And me, sitting alone behind you in the next booth, having apple pie (a la mode) and working the crossword puzzle in the evening paper. You probably don’t notice me and if you do it is a fleeting acknowledgment. You don’t know I am a writer. Why would you? You also don’t know that I am an eavesdropper. I hear you or one of your companions mention that Mr. Smith-jones at work is going to be fired the very next day. AH … I lean in just a bit, concentrate so I don’t miss something here. I am inspired! Bang! Just like that. I have been trying to decide what to do with my protagonist in my current story, something to surprise him, shake him up, and move his story on. This could be it! Tell more, tell MORE.
Inspiration is energy for my writing. It comes from awareness, memories, reading. From living. Years ago, when I first started writing western/cowboy poetry, even if the words didn’t always come easy, the ideas did. I’d lived a ranch-kid’s life, grew up in these mountains gathering cattle, riding the trails, hanging around any place I could where there was a horse or a cow. By the time I started writing poetry I had thousands of miles on horseback and endless memories of events and experiences related to the western lifestyle.
But I was in for a surprise when I put my pen to paper. I would find myself so inspired by a memory I would nearly be in tears. I didn’t only recall what took place, I smelled it, saw the colors of it, felt how the sun or the air or the rain felt on my skin. In other words, I became so inspired my spirit would grasp that memory, that event, that moment and away we would go. And after I started writing, I became even more thoughtful about my surroundings. I didn’t only hear the squeak of my saddle, I noticed its rhythm. I didn’t only smell a first rain with pleasure, I noticed a taste on my tongue and I felt it enter into my memory bank. I lay on the ground on a warm spring day and felt the coolness of the green blades of grass where they tickled my bare arm. I noticed and I was inspired.
Of course, I still had to find the right words. Mastering the language was a whole other endeavor. I had to work hard at that back then and I still do. I am glad I wrote poetry before prose. Poetry writing reminds me to be observant, to pay attention, to really see what takes place in situations that seem ordinary but perhaps are not.
A couple of years ago I traveled over to Sparks, Nevada, to perform a poetry session there. Late one evening I sat in a restaurant alone, hungry and tired; I needed something to eat before sleep. I noticed a couple nearby, sitting across from each other in a red leather booth. He was a dapper older man, silver -haired, dressed nicely, but it was his fancy watch on his strong wrist that really stood out. It flashed in the light every time he lifted his fork to take a bite of his meal. I could hear his steady, deep voice but not his words. The woman across from him was less than half his age. She had blonde hair with one purple and one blue steak down the side of her head that I could see. Her legs were crossed beneath the table and her left foot bobbed up and down up and down, her flip flop snapping against her heel. She ate methodically, bite after bite and never looked up at the man across from her. Her nails were bright blue, peacock blue, and I could see she had a gold nose ring in her right nostril. Here was my thought process: father and daughter, he is trying to talk her into or out of something. She doesn’t want to give him the impression that she cares, so no eye contact.
Scenarios ran through my mind one after another. He wants her to go to school. She just wants some money. He wants her to come home. She hates her step-mother. He wants what is best for her. He spoke louder, she put her fork down. He reached and put his large hand over her small one. Good, I thought, he’s being nice to her. He reaches back for his wallet, opens it quickly and pulls out a couple of bills. He tosses them down on the table between them and stands up. She scoots out of the booth and stands facing him. He grabs her right arm and pulls her toward him. She steps right up to him and he … leans down and gives her the biggest sloppiest open-mouther kiss I EVER saw. Surprise … not his daughter! Now you tell me there isn’t a story in THAT scene.
Inspiration is where we look for it.