Ever feel your mind is nothing but a blank canvas? Especially when you're trying to remember that great idea you had in the shower, or what it was that you ran out of last week now that you're making your grocery list for the next trip to Trader Joe's?
As I wrote in Part 1 of this series, one reason to write down your thoughts and ideas is simply to remember a good idea or record an inspirational thought for later use.
You don't have to make a post, article, novel, or memoir out of your good idea for it to "qualify" as a reason to be recorded. Even if you never share your ideas in print, developing the habit of recording your thoughts will make you a better conversationalist. It might even contribute to the elimination of small talk!
Perhaps the best reason to keep a journal or notebook is that by simply writing down your ideas, you are developing the skills necessary to have creative thought. For me, creative means "your own."
I don't see enough creative ideas these days. I read fast, often, and from numerous sources. I scan my social media feeds, the newspaper headlines, and several online publications (mostly inspirational, but not all) every morning. I rarely see any creative ideas expressed. Most of what appears daily is rehashed information, banal or useless memes, meaningless platitudes, and—more often than not—unoriginal material.
I believe memes will be the death of our creative, intelligent society. It appears to me that many people are not only repeating words spoken by someone else in conversation, they're carrying signs expressing the words and thoughts of someone else—copied, pasted, and shared on their social media pages. Who are these someone elses? Damned if I know, do you? Think about that for a moment before you click "share."
If memes and "sharing" were suddenly banned on social media, there would probably be about 80 to 90 percent less content published. I'd like to see that enforced for one day. It would be an easy way to reduce the amount of our time wasted online, if nothing else.
But we humans are social creatures and we yearn to connect with others. If we had to rely solely on our own thoughts and ideas for posting material, would you have something to share?
You would if you had a journal or notebook to record your thoughts and ideas. So, in addition to developing your critical thinking skills, jotting down random insights can be fodder for future posts or even developed into some literary format, if you choose.
As a writer or artist, having a databank of ideas to mine is essential. Contrary to popular belief, even "creative" people can't always churn out new material at a moment's notice. Besides, often those ideas that initially seemed so expansive and exciting may need a bit of time to germinate before they're ready to sprout a beautiful creation. Or maybe it's the creator who needs the time to marinate.
Either way, having access to a healthy source of inspiration is essential to the creative process. It certainly has proven so for me. If you read to the end of my previous post, you may remember Life in a Hopper Painting, the short personal essay I included, which was based on a dream I had in 2004. (If you haven't read it yet, now might be a good time to go back and do so, because the short story I'm including below is based on the same dream.)
The original source of this new, updated fictional version was written several months after the dream. I had forgotten the dream, the essay, and the draft of a short story with notes, all recorded in 2004 until recently discovered in an old journal.
As far as I'm concerned, the story I'm sharing in this post as the fiction I created from the dream is still a work in progress. I rarely share my incomplete or unpolished work, but I'm going to now as an example of how an idea, dream, or single thought can develop into something more.
Nothing happens unless first a dream. —Carl Sandburg
At the end of the short story draft of my dream , I'll include my notes for possible changes, additions, and edits. Let me know what you think in the comments below.
Inside a Hopper Painting
Early Sunday Morning, a large Edward Hopper print, hangs in my dining room. It’s somewhat newly acquired for me. It arrived, along with a handful of other things, with Joe, my newly acquired husband, when he moved in with me.
Every morning while we have our breakfast Joe looks at the Hopper and tells me how much it reminds him of his childhood and the street he grew up on in Brooklyn.
“That’s Charlie the Barber’s,” he says as he points to the barber pole. “And next door was Hop Hing’s Chinese Laundry.”
Then he’ll grin and reminisce about a story from his childhood. Sometimes he tells me about his mother. Sometimes it’s about an incident with his friends. I’ve heard the stories many times.
Today it’s the one about how Billy Albanase used to bully him.
One day, Joe’s mother got tired of listening to how Billy would “steal” his friends and told him to go settle the score, once and for all. So Joe went to Billy’s apartment house and called to him from the street.
Billy stuck his head out the window. “Yeah? Whaddaya want?”
“Come down here and let’s fight it out,” a quivering 10-year-old Joey yelled up.
“I can’t. I’m going to Coney Island with my family.”
“Oh.” Joe shrugged.
After that there were no more bullying episodes.
Today Joe was about halfway through the story when I looked at the clock on the wall. I had to get going.
“Do you want another cup of coffee?” I asked as I pushed my chair back from the table and started to clear our breakfast dishes.
Joe shot me a look, clearly annoyed that I had interrupted his story.
“Sorry, honey,” I apologized. “But I have to get to work. I just want to know if I can get you anything else before I leave.”
My answer was silence and another irritated look.
I turned and walked away, carrying our dishes. “Finish your story. I can listen from the kitchen.”
“Never mind. I forgot what I was saying.”
Now the annoyance had crept into his voice.
I muted my sigh.
“Well, can I get you more coffee?” I tried to sound apologetic.
“Yeah, okay—if it won’t make you late.”
I rolled my eyes at the dig. I was at the kitchen counter with my back to him, so I could do it without letting him know his barb had hit the target.
As I refilled his cup and poured a travel mug for me, I heard his chair push away from the table.
I returned to the dining room and put his coffee on his placemat before heading into the bathroom for a final check on my hair and makeup prior to leaving. I glanced around but didn’t see him in the living room.
He wasn’t in the bedroom either. I poked my head into the bathroom and did my last-minute primping. Glancing at my watch, I silently cursed the time and hurried to gather my things. As I rushed to the door to grab my keys, purse, and travel mug, I called out once more.
“Honey, I’m leaving. Your coffee’s on the table. Don’t let it get cold.”
I stood at the door, waiting to hear acknowledgement. Nothing.
Now I was annoyed. Sometimes he was so ridiculously over-sensitive.
I walked back to the living room. “Joe? Where are you?”
His silence was really getting infuriating. I quickly checked room to room, but there was no sign of him.
I’ve heard of disgruntled husbands going out for a pack of cigarettes and never returning—but never just disappearing from an apartment.
I stuck my head out the front door and surveyed our apartment’s second-floor landing.
“Joe?” I called out at normal conversational voice level.
Then louder. “Joe! Are you out here?”
My only response was the neighbor’s yappy dog berating me from atop their couch with his creepy hairless paws on the windowsill.
“Screw you, too, you poor excuse for a canine,” I muttered, glaring at the runt of an animal before shutting my door.
I threw my hands up in the air and took another walk around the small apartment. His wallet, keys, and sunglasses were on our dresser.
I checked the bathroom and pulled back the shower curtain, revealing an empty tub.
Sighing loudly, I gave it one more shot. “Joe, PLEASE. This isn’t funny.”
Silence can be spooky.
Pushing down my rising panic, I let anger flare up in its place. The heck with it. I’d call him later from work. By then, he’ll be over it.
Seeing his keys on the dresser as I walked through our bedroom reminded me that I couldn’t leave without locking him out.
What a stupid, selfish thing for him to do!
Maybe he was downstairs, talking to the neighbor who also liked to yak about cars. I grabbed his keys. I could give them to him on my way to the parking lot.
After locking up behind me, I stomped down the stairs, receiving minimal comfort from the brisk, sharp clicks my high heels made on the old, wood surface.
Still no sign of him once I reached the bottom, but Mr. Bonavida was outside sweeping the sidewalk in front of his ground-floor apartment.
“Good morning! Have you seen Joe? I need to give him something before I leave for work, and I’m already running late.”
I hoped my sense of urgency came through and our chatty, car-obsessed neighbor wouldn’t see this as an invitation to engage in conversation.
He stopped sweeping and leaned on the broom handle. “Yes, Missy. He said something ‘bout checking on a listing for a sweet ’57 Chevy he saw listed in the Auto Trader last week. I think he was on his way to the newsstand.”
“Thanks, Mr. B. Have a good day,” I said, walking briskly past him. The newsstand was halfway down the street and I was relieved I could catch him there.
From the front of our building I could see Tony Amatulli and Victor Dutton standing outside City News. It looked like they were already working the Daily Racing Form, getting ready for their day at Aquaduct.
By the time I reached them, I was out of breath and sweating, with my perfect work-day appearance taking a huge hit in the process.
“Hey, guys. Have you seen Joe? I got to get to work but he left without his keys.” I held up his key fob as evidence.
Tony grinned. “Sounds like the ole man’s in hot water.”
“No, not really. But, seriously, I do need to get goin’. Have you seen him?”
Victor was more helpful. “Yeah, he just bought the Tradah and I think I saw him head over to da corner.”
“The candy store?” I sucked in my breath, hoping he was headed in the opposite direction, closer to where my car was parked.
“Yeah. Said somethin’ about getting change for da laundromat.”
“Thanks, Victor.” I ignored Tony, who was still grinning. I knew if I gave him any indication I was annoyed or upset, he’d use it to needle me for weeks.
“Later, guys,” I called over my shoulder as I hurried to Moe’s Candy Store, another half block away from my car.
I swung the heavy glass door open and peered inside. The counter seats were taken, but no sign of Joe. I took a few steps in to see if he was sitting in the back, at one of the two tables, maybe shooting the breeze with one of the boys.
Nope, nothing. Now I don’t know what to do. I sighed and decided to return home. Maybe somehow I’d missed him and he was back at our apartment, trying to get in. Grrr.
I nodded as I approached Tony and Victor on my return, but of course, Tony wouldn’t miss an opportunity to get under my skin.
“Hey,” he called to me. “Still looking for Joey?”
I slowed. “Yeah, did he pass this way?” Maybe for once, he would be helpful.
“Not exactly. But I did see him across the street, turning into the alleyway where Josephine lives.” Tony smirked and waited to see if I’d take the bait.
Josephine was the ex-wife. Joe’s first wife. I was number three, so there was little water under that bridge. I sighed. Then I brightened.
“Thanks for the tip, Tony. He’s got a friend down that alley and they like to sit on the stoop and talk old times.”
I turned and stepped between parked cars, but not before I saw I had taken a bit of the wind out of Mr. Amatulli’s sails.
Checking the traffic before I ran across the busy street, I headed for the alley and John Colgan’s stoop. I didn’t have to travel too far into the dark alley. The stoop was lit and could be seen from afar. But it was empty and so was the alley.
I walked back to the street, cursing silently. I’d have to go back upstairs to change. I was a sweaty mess. Well, I had to call in late, anyway. Joe better be waiting outside for me if he knew what was good for him.
I walked down the street toward home, observing our side of the street from across the way, something I rarely do. I’m always too much in a rush for checking out the scenery or even what was happening around me.
Things looked different from this side. Really different. I stopped and looked across the street at my building. Wait, was that my building at all? It looked vaguely familiar, but something was off.
I sucked in my breath sharply. Holy shit. This was not our neighborhood. Was this a dream? I was looking at the street scene from the painting in our dining room. Somehow I must have followed Joe into the Hopper painting he loves so much. But why can’t I see him anymore?
With a sinking feeling in my stomach, I thought, “What do you mean anymore? When was the last time you saw him or listened, for that matter?
No longer giving a damn about my hair, makeup, or outfit, I pulled off my high heels and tore across the street. As I held up my hand to an oncoming car, the driver returned my hand gesture with one of his own, while planting his other hand firmly on the horn.
I flew up the steps and wrestled the keys in my shaking hand into the lock, finally pushing the door open.
I saw Joe sitting at the dining room table with his back to me, staring at the Hopper print on the wall.
I’m home, I think, closing my eyes and heaving a sigh of relief.
I open my eyes slowly, one at a time, hoping he’s still there. He is, and it appears that no time has passed here since I got up to clear the table. Joe doesn’t seem to hear me as I go into the kitchen and pour two fresh cups of coffee.
I bring them to the table, sit down, and ask, “So what happened next?”
Joe looks at me and then pulls the mug closer to him. He adds two spoonfuls of sugar from the bowl in the center of the table.
“I thought you had to get to work,” he says as he stirs the coffee many times to make sure all the sugar is dissolved.
“I’ll call in that I’m stuck in traffic or something. I can stay late tonight or skip lunch to make up the time.”
“Are you sure? We need this job. God knows, my phone’s not ringing with any business.”
I cover his hand with mine. “I need you to finish your story. Then I’ll go to work.”
* * *
Notes to myself:
Add to end of story to include a few lines of dialogue with wife prompting him where he left off and Joe continuing the story.
Add description of Hopper print to beginning so it makes sense without the visual.
Change protagonists from husband and wife to father (or grandfather) and young woman (daughter/granddaughter). Male could be "Pop."
Any suggestions? I'd love your feedback! Please comment.
Cover Image: Art Critic. ©Gemignani
Text ©Shelley Lieber
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