Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Dark and Rainy Night

Where do you get your ideas?

Last week brought flash flood warnings, but I have a twelve year old. The flash flood of emotion indoors felt more lightning sharp and dangerous than the watery version, so I decided to go for a walk.

The Woods of McLean are close to our house. I'm sure it has another name, but that's my name for it, despite being teased that it sounds like I'm going to a shopping mall.

The Woods of McLean is a twisty well-maintained path through a wooded area. It has little bridges, lots of dog-walkers and moms' with strollers. It's much like, I suppose, any other park in suburbia. It's where I run, where inspiration strikes and where sometimes I pause to marvel at the 80s era fitness test equipment scattered at regular intervals throughout the woods.

On that evening, it wasn't really my intention to visit the Woods of McLean. It's just sort of where I ended up. Because it had stopped raining, I hedged my bets and followed the path. Underneath the canopy of trees it was deserted. And dark. Not really, really dark, but dramatically lit; wooded mood lighting for Bad Things.

In those dark woods lit for bad things, I imagined a murder. Mine! A crime of opportunity committed while everyone was warm and dry in their houses, safe from the high water. Which led to imagining that high water. What if a flash flood occurred and swept me underneath one of those bridges?

I pictured a four year old boy in one of the houses on the edge of the woods, looking out from the picture window of his living room.

"Mommy," he would say. "I think a saw a person floating in the water."

"We've talked about you making up stories," she would respond.

"No, I saw someone. I promise!" But she would already be leading him away, to dinner, bath time and bedtime. The comfort of routine. My corpse would be found the next day. The boy would spend his life trying to understand the little moments upon which fate hinges.

A piece of fabric was hanging from a branch underneath a bridge and I wondered if it had once belonged to the murderer stalking me through the Woods of McLean. Maybe he'd been lying in wait and been swept away, suffered an ironic death dealt by the high waters of a flash flood.

I turned around quickly like something being hunted, expecting to see him crawling out of the water and screamed (yes, out loud) at the sight of a shadowy human-shaped tree trunk.

And then I came to the edge of the Woods of McLean. The canopy parted and there was a crack in the clouds that made everything look sunny and bright. I skipped home feeling lucky to have avoided my million dark fates and as I did, I realized the answer to that question so often asked of writers.

The question is not where I get my ideas. It's how will I ever do justice to them all. And maybe, also, a keen curiosity about what other people are thinking. If their minds aren't engaged in making up stories, what is it that makes them look so far away?

And of course, the more I try to answer that question, the more ideas I'll have clamoring to be written down.

16 comments:

Elizabeth Seckman said...

My over active imagination + being a coward is what stops me from going for walks at night or through creepy looking parks. And yep, I have way more ideas than I have typing speed. I tell people that I hardly ever suffer from writer's block, but do have a problem with brain diarrhea...not a pretty image, I know.

Barbara Watson said...

I would have screamed out loud too. I can creep myself out with imagination worse than anything I see or read. :-)

Much like you, inspiration comes when I walk my dog on a wooded path. My ideas rise and float and become something.

ilima said...

You are such a writer. :)

Elise Fallson said...

I have an active imagination too and ideas hit often and usually without warning, lol. I remember one particular morning, I was cutting leeks and BAM, a story idea hit me. :)

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

That idea was so dark and twisted, you scared yourself!

Beylit said...

I often have moments like this. It is the primary reason I can't sleep alone in my house, my imagination is just too active.

Jan Newman said...

Sounds like the kinds of ideas I'd have gotten walking alone in a deserted wood -- but I would have been too freaked out to write about them afterward! There's a good reason I don't write or even read much horror or thriller fiction. Just thinking of you going into the woods alone freaked me out. :) Must have been scarier inside. 12-year-olds: I get it.

Joanne Noragon said...

Monday a week we had the second night of four or more inches of rain. I looked at some of the damage next day, from behind Road Closed barricades. All the tributaries that run into the Cuyahoga must have been terrifying during the storm. Creeks you could usually jump roaring a quarter mile wide, entire trees thundering down to jam the culverts and bridges. Yellow Creek, Furnace Run, Slippery Run--mild little streams running through back lots other days could have provided you with a notebook of reality that night.

Botanist said...

Hmmm...how about "scared to death by your own imagination" as the basis for a story? ")

Dianne K. Salerni said...

I got an idea this weekend too, inspired by a strange story, a mystery, and a grave. Will I make something of it? Who knows. But I love feeling that moment of inspiration.

~Sia McKye~ said...

My woods and I are old friends. I feel safe there. But I do keep my senses wide open when I walk. I have had moments when a chill brushes my spine (I pay attention to the feeling) and do know when I'm being watched intently. I've heard subtle sounds that don't quite fit with where I am. Rarely are there other people around. Almost non-existent, lol! It's usually animals, some not so friendly. :-) Hence my wide open senses and being in tune with my surroundings.

So yes, there is a host of ideas and story spins floating in the the creative well as I walk (or go anywhere, really).

Sia McKye Over Coffee

Emily R. King said...

The woods are spooky! Some of my favorite books have haunted forests. :) I don't blame your imagination for wandering.

Naida said...

The Woods of McLean and your imagination are pretty awesome Johanna!

Marjorie DeLuca said...

You captured the truth here - you can never switch the writer mode off. It's there 24-7. Even when you're dreaming!!!

Neurotic Workaholic said...

The pictures of the woods reminds me of the woods that Calvin and Hobbes used to play in. I wish there had been a little forest like that near my childhood home.

A Beer For The Shower said...

I love this. It definitely captures the essence of being a writer. Even a random trip to the grocery store can turn into an idea for a novel if my mind's in overactive imagination mode (and it almost always is).