In Search Of A Story Idea

Funny thing about this blog. When I started it last April I didn’t know what shape it would take or what it might come to mean to me. Shape-wise, somewhat to my surprise, the blog seems to conform pretty well to the template I described in the “About” page. Meaning, I’ve written about this and I’ve written about that, and the articles in toto appear to give a pretty good picture of who I am. Not that I actually know particularly well who I am. Figuring that out would take hours and hours on a psychiatrist’s or other therapist’s chair or couch. “Hey, Sandy!” (note to readers: I’m calling to my wife). “It’s time I found out who I am. Please get me an appointment with a topnotch and nearby mental health professional. Thanks.”

As for what the blog means to me . . . well, it has become a big part of my life. Here I am, almost 12 months forward from the blog’s launch date, and I’m getting a tasty kick from writing. More than 60 times I’ve been inspired to put fingers to keyboard and knock out a story. I haven’t done so much thinking or typing since my school days, back when the dinosaurs were on the verge of extinction. Didn’t know I had it in me.

There is a problem though. To wit, I’m good at struggling to find subjects that interest me enough to write about them. And that are simple enough so that pea-brained me can understand them. Sometimes the well feels awfully dry, causing me to start worrying more than a bit. “What the heck am I going to write about next?” is a question commonly floating in my head. When day after day go by without a pleasing answer, man, the perspiration beads start pooling.

And that’s the situation I find myself in right now. I’ve had a few particles of ideas for stories, but none has swelled to a size that I can grab and knead. Better scribes than I would have turned out excellent articles from those fragments, which is one of many reasons why those writers are better.

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For instance, the other day I was at my volunteer job in a medical office building not far from my suburban Philadelphia home. The building is full of doctors’ offices that are reached via a web of corridors. I man the information desk at this facility one morning each week and have been doing so for six years. I was standing beside the desk. My mind was wandering. Perspiration covered my forehead. “What the heck am I going to write about next?” I wondered. And then something caught my eye. It was a watercolor painting, a large appealing abstract in blue and cream. It was mounted on a wall eight feet in front of me. It had been on this wall for who knows how long. I had seen it every time I’d been at my volunteer job. But I hadn’t  really seen it. I mean, it’s one of those items that you don’t want to become too aware of. If I started fixating on its existence, I’d be glancing over at it throughout my shift. It would become like a song that gets stuck in your head. Such as El Paso, the Marty Robbins tune from 1959 that I’ve been trying unsuccessfully to expel for decades. When Sandy and I were at dinner with our great pals Susie and Mike a few weeks ago, Mike started singing El Paso to me. He’s cruel that way. “Out in the West Texas town of El Paso/I fell in love with a Mexican girl/Night-time would find me in Rosa’s cantina/Music would play and Felina would whirl.” “Stop, Mike, stop!” I cried. And he did. But here I am a few weeks later with those entrancing lyrics and that sweet waltz-time melody still skipping around in my brain neurons. Mucho gracias, Mike. Mucho gracias.

Ah yes, the watercolor painting staring at me from eight feet away. A bell dimly chimed inside my cranium when the notion occurred to me that the watercolor might in some elusive manner lead the way to a story for my blog. Perhaps there were other art works hanging in the corridors of the medical facility. And if so, that would be my story. Namely, one about lovely objects that often surround us yet remain unnoticed and unappreciated.

Is this art?
Is this art?
Is this art?
Is this art?

Off I went to explore the three floors-worth of crisscrossing hallways. I’d walked these avenues many times over the years, but looking for art had never been part of my quests. Alas, I came up empty. The blue and cream watercolor was an orphan, the only framed object in the various halls. Not so fast, though. A myriad of things were attached to the corridors’ walls or hanging from their ceilings. Fire alarms, fire extinguishers, water fountains, exit signs, digital thermostats and other utilitarian stuff. Who’s to say that they didn’t qualify as art? If they did, then my volunteer job took place within a veritable museum.

“Yeah, now that’s a story for my blog,” I told myself. After all, in 1917 Marcel Duchamp bought a mass-produced urinal, signed it with a fictitious name and submitted it to a prestigious arts exhibition. And in the 1960s Andy Warhol created large-scale facsimiles of Brillo boxes. Duchamp and Warhol were revolutionary modernists, questioning the nature of art, asking what in fact qualifies as art. If they had held my volunteer job, mightn’t they have concluded that indeed they were working in a museum?

Thus I walked the hallways once again, reexamining the stuff on the walls and ceilings and taking their pictures with my iPhone. And as I did I knew that this story idea led nowhere. Oy frigging vey! Try as I might I didn’t feel any aesthetic or conceptual attraction towards the fire alarms or any of the rest. “You know, as art these things suck big time,” I said to myself.

Soon an idea worth writing about will come to me. I’m confident of that. Sort of. Till then, I’m outta here. Where’s the exit? . . . Oh, here it is. Bye.

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