Words matter immensely. My theory is that they have been traveling alongside us since the dawn of the human race, telling our history. They have inspired writers, been meticulously stated in ink: guilty or not guilty, been used in declarations of war and peace: hate you, love you. They can entertain, inform, and make power-hungry small minds tremble. Through our pens, they pass on the stories of the past, comment on the times in which we live, and leave a mark for tomorrow. If we fail to catch the words as they pass by, they quickly fade away and move on, from writer to writer, always traveling.
For of all sad words of tongue or pen,
The saddest are these: “It might have been!”
— John Greenleaf Whittier, “Maud Muller”
Grown-ups never understand anything by themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.
— Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, “The Little Prince”
Grown-ups always need explanations, the narrator in The Little Prince says. Once, when he was six, he saw a picture of a boa constrictor swallowing a wild animal. With this picture in mind, he made his first drawing:
The grown-ups thought it was a hat, when in fact it was a boa constrictor digesting an elephant. He then made another drawing to simplify things for them:
They advised him to put away his drawings and become something useful instead. He became a pilot but remained unimpressed by grown-ups. He still showed them his first boa restrictor drawing, and they always said it was a hat.
Later, when the little prince asks him to draw a sheep, he draws a box and explains that the sheep is inside it. Obvious, isn’t it? They both think so.
On the bridge over the highway, some preschool children were waving at the cars passing by underneath. A truck driver spotted them and honked his horn, and the children jumped up and down in delight. I jotted down the story in my notebook.
At the grocery store, my eyes caught a young woman with a long shopping list and a story started to spin in my head on my way to the milk shelves. Notebook time.
From snippets of everyday moments like these, great stories can be born. Maybe the truck driver is transporting red apples from Italy, and maybe the young woman with the long shopping list will buy some for her apple pie. There’s a line running from a family’s apple farm in the south of Europe to a truck driver spending endless hours behind the wheel, honking his horn at a group of children while missing his own, to a woman with a desperate look in her eyes at a Nordic grocery store shopping for a family dinner she’s not capable of making.
Of course, the beauty would be to write the actual stories of the people we meet. Like the one of the man who stood bent in a 45-degree angle over a garbage bin he used as a stand for his beer cans, hacking and hawking and coughing up a slimy glob that landed a couple of feet away from him. He gave me a friendly “Hello” as I walked by. I waved back. I wonder what his story is. He’s in the notebook, too.
Timeless classic: When a character you created decades ago — one with red hair, sticky-out pigtails, freckles, strength, and the name of Pippilotta Delicatessa Windowshade Mackrelmint Efraim’s Daughter Longstocking, Pippi for short — continues to inspire, both because of who she is and because of her mismatched long stockings. Knit yourself a pair.
Swedish children’s author Astrid Lindgren (1907–2002) was a wonderful storyteller.
A childhood without books — that would be no childhood. That would be like being shut out from the enchanted place where you can go and find the rarest kind of joy.
— Astrid Lindgren
She was the odd one in the chicken farm, smaller, with messy head feathers, and always going her own ways. “She just won’t fit in,” the others complained, referring to their established 8.5 by 11 inches format. Their negative attitude towards her began to change the day she jumped on the fence and crowed, not exactly like an early morning rooster, but with her own distinctive voice. Comfort zones were shaken.
I wrote this in response to a NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) daily prompt and, being a narrator more than a poet, I have always thought it would make a good scene in a story. The actual challenge we were given was to make the everyday seem poetic and keep the poetic language grounded. I like the contrast between poetic and everyday.
I look up and try to think of the mightiest word
to describe the multitude of stars in the firmament
Heaven’s own navigation lights for lost sailors to find their way home
I know I always feel safe seeing Orion’s Belt in the night sky,
still in line: Alnitak, Alnilam, Mintaka
I smile wryly at my own thoughts and shiver a bit
It will be colder tomorrow
Snow will fall soon
“A dubious writer struggles to come up with a storyline, but finds that his imagination gets out of hand.” That’s the introduction to the six-minute short film “Writer’s Block” by Robby Spark.
A writer finds inspiration everywhere, right? That’s what our guy in the film hopes for. From his café table, he sees a car with a “Pirate Pizza” sign on the door and on he goes with a story about two pirates dueling on the beach. Day and night and day and night and… until he hits the Delete button. Then he is inspired by a couple in love a few tables away and starts afresh with two lovers gazing at each other and enjoying a meal underneath the starry sky. Suddenly they are attacked by ninjas. Delete. In the end, all the characters, the dueling pirates, the couple in love, the ninjas plus a dozen others, end up on the same beach and the chaos is complete.
If you ever wondered how it looks like inside the head of a writer who tries to come up with a storyline, this is it.