Friday, May 08, 2015

False Starts and Half-Baked Ideas

Yesterday I dashed out of the door for a 10 a.m. appointment. I was distracted, but on the Northway (the highway in upstate New York that takes up from Albany right up to the Canadian border), something caught my eye. A light pink Volkswagon Beetle. And, of course, I wanted to know who was driving such a "make you smile" car. I had only a glimpse as I passed at 55 miles an hour. But the driver was female, probably middle-aged, and she had her window half-rolled down and a cigarette in her hand. Immediately, I started giving her a life, creating a character that would turn up in a book or maybe a short story at some point. It also occurred to me that I had a topic for today's blog. Something about the cars that characters drive -- but the only character who came to mind was James Bond.

So, I thought, I'll do some research, and I can write about my character Lizzie Stuart, who drives a Ford Focus. Or, Hannah McCabe, my near-future police detective, who occasionally gets to ride in a high tech vehicle but isn't that interested in cars.

As I was thinking about McCabe's attitude toward cars and her partner, Mike Baxter's profound love of them, I realized that what I find interesting about cars is what they reveal about their drivers. That was when I wandered off into self-analysis. For years, I have leased my cars. In fact, I've never owned one. Every three years, I swap the car I'm driving for the newest model. The car I've been driving for years now has been a Ford Focus (economical, easy to park, safety features). My Focus has always been light gray (silver). But last summer, I chose a deep red (ruby) Focus. The question is why I -- who love color -- spent years driving a silver car. Probably because I love the color gray [or grey]. I find gray soothing. And thought-provoking. But I was in a rut, and I opted for a color that would give me a new perspective. My ruby red car has done that. If I were creating me as a character, how would my perception of me (the character) be different if I were first seen in my pale gray Focus (fading into the sea of other cars) rather than my ruby Focus (not flashy, but willing to stand out)?

By the time I had finished thinking about myself and the color of my car, I had lost the momentum that would have sent me to do the research for my cars and characters post. My cat seemed to come to my rescue. You may remember that back in October, I adopted a Maine Coon mix that I named Harry. Harry's movements fascinate me. He sometimes simply leaps up on a desk or a bookcase. At other times, he sits for several second contemplating a jump onto the radiator where he spends much of his time looking out the window. But he seems to need at that moment to think before he leaps -- as opposed to those moments when he hears birds chirping and dashes from across the room to sail up on top of the radiator cover. I am intrigued by why he sometimes pauses. He does the same thing when he is planning to jump up into my lap. He will "meow" or sit there until I look at him before leaping. This pause is understandable. He has had false starts when I shifted in my chair or moved my legs just as he was jumping. He seems to find that clumsy slide back to the floor embarrassing -- so embarrassing that he retreats to the table he likes sitting under to pretend he wasn't even trying to jump onto my lap. So now he waits for eye contact and then he waits for me to shift in my chair to accommodate 18 lbs of cat who now likes to turn over on his back and have me support his head as he stretches out. Harry knows his human needs to be in the right position for that maneuver to work.

So, Harry jumped into my lap, and I thought about his occasional false starts. And I thought that could be a metaphor for the false starts we writers sometimes make as we are looking for an idea that works. But it's the end of semester, and I'm looking at a pile of papers I need to grade. My thought process broke down before I could work through my second half-baked idea.

And that's why this blog is about false starts and half-baked ideas. It is my tutorial on how to write a blog post when you have nothing brilliant to say.

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