Thursday, August 27, 2009

Bro, Can You Spare An Idea?


John Steinbeck, one of the 20th century's greatest writers, once said, "Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and learn how to handle them, and pretty soon you have a dozen of them."

The author of "The Grapes of Wrath" and "Of Mice and Men," and many other fiction classics, has it right about ideas. If I come across an idea it is dumb luck and can lead to even better ones. Ever so often when I stumble onto what I think is a great column, a portion of the masses of readers disagree.

I have not given up on producing the Great American Novel just yet. Every would-be writer has had a fling at that idea. Fiction demands more imagination than I can muster.

Ideas do not grow on trees nor in a cluttered up mind. That may be where my trouble lies as a "columnist." My mind is muddled up with a fruitless orchard.

Take today for example. I am in the waiting room of the eye doctor. My wife is seeing the ophthalmologist. The fellow next to me is going on about needing a haircut. I agreed but kept it to myself. I guess the idea of a haircut reminded him of a 1970s long-haired male teenager. The kid wanted a car real bad. He was always hinting for a car one way or another. The boy's dad tells him if he'd quit smoking weed, go to church and get a haircut, he might consider getting him a car.

That reminded me of Nurse Lounette and her family's holiday trip from Hong Kong, where they worked, to Singapore. One of their teenage boys wore his blond hair good and stringy long. At the immigration desk they were informed the boy gets a haircut if he wants to visit Singapore. What does he do? He gets back on the plane to Hong Kong and home. He preferred his hair to an exciting holiday in Malaysia and Singapore. Hair was sacred back in those days.

Getting back to my fellow-waiting-for-his-wife and his hair story, he said a few months later the boy came to his father and announced he no longer smoked anything, was reading his Bible and had been going to church. But you have not cut your hair, the father told him. The boy looked stunned. Well, forget it the boy said. Even a new car was not worth having his golden locks sheared to a decent appearance.

These hair stories from out of the past certainly prove Mark Twain was correct when he said, "Always do right - this will gratify some and astonish the rest." Back then long-haired boys felt gifted, the rest of us were astonished how much it meant to them.

Sometimes my creative juices fairly amaze me ("creative juices" is a worn out cliché; which is a chestnut of an oxymoron). The ideas flow as my mind leaps like a monkey from tree to tree. Ideas sprouting as I swing and sway from tree to tree. If a tree is too far for my rope, I'm left dangling between brilliant ideas, dazzling plots or award-winning column ideas. Most times the result is nothing more than mental fatigue. Take an Advil and start over tomorrow.

The next day, the will to write has flown the coop. Steinbeck's rabbits are all gone. There is no desire to open up the computer. The temptation to skip a day without writing is powerful. Take a day off, enjoy life a bit. Then you remember the wise man once said: opportunity may knock only once, but temptation leans on the doorbell.

Nothing is accomplished by putting it off. I have done that enough times to be an expert. I have been putting off finishing a short story for eight years. I keep going back to it in hopes it is better than when I left it. The physical exercise I have been putting off caught up with me this week. For over an hour I have not moved in my chair in the waiting room, trying to read "The Family" by Jeff Sharlet. I had no idea my left leg was as sound asleep baby in a cradle.

I got up to meet my wife as she came out of the doctor's office and immediately my left leg refused to listen to any command from my brain to move. It was almost as if it were no longer a part of me. If you ever want a room full of folks to get up from their seats at once, just collapse to the floor like I did at that moment. Nothing was broken this time.

I say, this time no furniture was broken, because the last time we were there a week or so ago, the waiting room was full again and I eased down on a glass-topped coffee table but the ease was more than the little table could take. I crashed through it and sat embarrassed on the floor, that happened to break my fall. Everybody jumped to their feet and all the staff stuck their heads out the doors. I told the nurses to put the glass on our bill.

My wife laughed at me all the way home. I've always felt her sense of humor a bit strange. She went on to suggest on the next doctor's visit I wait in the car. All that to say I have no ideas for a column this week.

This first appeared in print Aug. 28 in the Brownwood Bulletin, Texas. Then it was on my Houston Chronicle blog and Monday, Akug 31 in the San Angelo Standard-Times of the city of San Angelo, Texas. Others around the world probably picked it up and have used and enjoyed it. -- Britt Towery, retired minister and writer lives in San Angelo. He welcomes ideas via e-mail:
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