Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Fluffy Seeds and Writing Inspiration

Looking out the window during lunch today, I couldn’t help but smile when I saw poplar tree seeds floating through the air – something that reminded me of a scene from my book.
In it, the protagonist is in the backyard pushing two of her nieces on the swings. Having just returned home from college, she’s soaking in the sights, sounds and scents of home.

I headed over to the girls and began pushing each one alternately. Their laughter started to bubble over as they climbed higher and higher, stretching out their toes in a hopeless attempt to touch the clouds adorning the sky. The setting sun had started to change their color from a brilliant white to a mixture of pink and purple hues. The pale blue backdrop was beginning to darken as the light faded, and a slight breeze sent the fluffy white seeds from poplar trees dancing through the air.
                I inhaled the scent of spring flowers, listened faintly to the song of nearby birds and laughed along with the girls, reveling in the moment.
                “Auntie, you’re slowing down!” My attention snapped back to the girls. I quickly apologized to Vanessa, and made sure to use extra force when she swung back into reach.
                Not long after, the back door opened once again and Jules stepped out with Ryan. She headed toward the swings, calling over to Tyler [who was playing catch with Uncle Nathan] as she walked. “Ty, honey, we’re leaving in a few minutes.”
                He uttered an incoherent reply, or maybe it was a disappointed grunt, and kept playing.
                “Hey Jules.”
                “Aunt Jules, look at us fly!” The girls sang out.
                Jules stopped next to one of the trees, holding Ryan in the crook of her arm. He reached up with one of his tiny hands and tried to grasp a cottony seed as it danced past...

                One of the questions I’m regularly asked about writing is “Where do you get inspiration? Do you draw from experience or make it all up?”
                The answer is both, but I’m obsessed with the world, so I love drawing from everything that’s around me. That’s not to say I don’t love fantasy: The Lord of the Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia and Harry Potter are all favorites of mine, and I’ve definitely shed a few tears over the fact they don’t actually exist. I mean, really, who wouldn’t want to pay a visit to the Shire, Narnia or Hogwarts?
                But when it comes to my own writing, I’ve always thought there was more than enough inspiration to draw from all around me – in my life, in the lives of my family and friends and even complete strangers. There are stories everywhere. Not a day goes by where I don’t see something or someone or experience something that makes me think of plotlines and settings and character development.  It’s never ending, and it’s the reason I carry a notebook with me at all times.
                I love capturing life between the pages of a book. I love observing. The quote “careful, you might end up in my novel” has always been one of my favorite sayings about writing, although the “careful” isn’t always applicable. Sure, I might give characteristics to the jerks and the b*tches in my stories from those I’ve come across in real life (so in that case, careful) but I also think of the positive people I encounter when it comes to crafting the more lovable characters.
                But along with people, and as with the poplar seeds, I also enjoy observing everything else about the world.  Observing, it seems to me, is becoming a kind of lost art. And the blame I think (I know I’m not alone) should go to technology. Now, I’m not against phones, video games, television or the internet. I play video games with my husband, binge watching Netflix and am sometimes on my phone too much - as with all things, moderation is key. And that’s where I think there’s a problem; too many kids playing video games missing out on outdoor adventures; too many people with technology separation anxiety; too many people going immediately from one screen to the next, viewing life through lenses and filters instead of enjoying how it actually is; too many people walking down streets with eyes fixed to phones, missing the sight of blooming flowers or, looking even closer, the buzz of a bumblebee as he flits from one blossom to another, happy for warm weather and sweet nectar…
                There’s an old man who lives around the corner from me. Each morning, at the same time rain, snow or shine, he gets up and goes for a walk to the center of town. Along the way, he stops at two or three benches and just… sits. He watches people as they pass, or closes his eyes, stretches his arms along the back of the bench and his legs out in front of him and, I imagine, soaks in the sounds that surround him.
                His walk to the center of town literally takes up the majority of his day. He heads for a leisurely breakfast then heads back home, making the same stops to sit and observe on the return trip. He waves and says “hello” to everyone who passes, and will pick up a conversation with anyone willing to give him the time of day.
                I can’t help but imagine all he’s seen and everything he notices as he spends his day without the electronic distractions so many of us carry in our pockets or glued to our hands or ears.
                Recently, after weeks of seeing him, we had a conversation. When I was walking home from a relative’s house one afternoon, he was heading home as well and we ended up together at the crosswalk. We talked there for some time, then walked together since we were headed in the same direction. As I suspected, he’s quite the character. The conversation left a smile on my face for the rest of the afternoon, and he told me our walk had “made his day.”
                As for the specifics of the conversation… those are tidbits I’ll be saving for a future story.
                And so, from fluffy seeds to strolling strangers and everything in between… writing inspiration is everywhere. All you have to do is look.

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