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.