Thursday, April 30, 2009

Sister Christian

I'm going to branch out from a lovely blog tree-trunk that's been growing today; that is, what is writing to you?

Fantastic topic, so to push it a bit further I want to know what moves you into a writing mindset?

For me, it's a challenge to ever turn off the writing mindset. One of my favorite tales of the writer's life is from James Thurber:

I never quite know when I'm not writing. Sometimes my wife comes up to me at a party and says, "Damnit, Thurber, stop writing." She usually catches me in the middle of a paragraph. Or my daughter will look up from the dinner table and ask, "Is he sick?" "No," my wife says, "he's writing something."
(Interview with George Plimpton and Max Steele. Paris Review, Fall 1955)

The first time I came across this story I blinked and reread it, all the while thinking "Hey, that's me!" (And my husband rolls his eyes and nods).

I am always writing, it takes very little to push me into story-crafting, imagined dialogues, and scene painting. Tearing myself out of the writing world is much, much harder and quite painful.

This process (lifestyle?) came to mind when I arrived at Target yesterday. I passed through the sliding doors at precisely the same moment as an elderly nun.

Now, as the daughter of a Protestant minister I haven't had a lot of quality nun time in my life.

(Looks like I might have missed out on all the fun)

These days most nuns have eschewed the traditional habit, so they move through the world garbed like the rest of us civilians. Invisible saints.

But this nun was fully bedecked in meditative black and long wimple. I'd guess she was in her eighties. I immediately began to muse about her life and the reason for her visit to Target.

After gathering my Target goods and heading to the check out. I was rather startled when the nun turned up in line right behind me. Her shopping cart contained just a few items...three or four packages. All clothing for an infant.

Moments like these bulldoze me into a writing mindset, as if the universe is channeling a story my way. I've never believed in coincidences.

Questions ballooned in my mind. Why would a nun buy baby clothes and only baby clothes? Orphanage? Relief work? Grand nieces or nephews? Her own grandchildren from a life prior to getting to a nunnery?

The entire scenario struck me as incredibly bizarre.

Stories manifest all around me; from snippets of conversation I overhear, to the way shadows wrap around a tree, to nuns at Target.

Where do your stories come from? How do they evolve?


  1. Thats so cool. I actually get alot of story ideas while I'm on my motorcycle, riding back and forth to my day job. Or when I'm driving to pick up my kids. Hmm, there seems to be a theme here with me behind the wheel. Maybe I need to set up a projector (with outdoor scenes), a fake steering wheel, and a notepad nearby :)

  2. I get a lot of motivation from music, actually. Songs will get me thinking in various directions, and I'll often just start picturing scenarios branching out from what I hear in songs (lyrics or music)