Inspiration at the Post Office?
I’m the first person to say one can never predict where a new story idea will spring from. Yet, this one blindsided me completely.
I was at the post office sending off a package to loved ones and the friendly man behind the counter, a man who knows my mail habits, who takes care of me every time I go to the post office just a few blocks from my house – he dropped the most odd bit of thought on me as I was paying for my shipment.
Me (being a wiseass) – “Let’s just hope they decide to deliver it. You know, when they feel like it.”
Postman – “Right? You think it’s bad now, just wait til we go to war.”
Me – “War? What do you mean?”
Postman – “We’re probably going to war.”
Me – “With who?”
I naturally delved deeper.
Me – “What? Are you kidding?”
Postman – “Nope. Postage just spiked like crazy. That’s usually a sign.”
Me – “A sign of what?”
Postman – “That we’re going to war.”
I stopped there and thought, wait…what?
It felt completely out of left field and wacky, but it naturally got the gears turning. What would make Canada declare war on us? What would make us declare war on Canada? Would they come marching across the border with their machine guns, apologizing as they scoured the land, slaughtering the innocents? I can’t imagine that, not in the slightest.
Yet, I delved further. What would happen to the people I love who are, in fact, Canadian? Would I be allowed to see them, hear from them? What if I wouldn’t? What if someone I loved enlisted in the military against my nation? What would happen? What would they do if I met them on their march into the war zone that was my home? What would make them do it? What if? What if?
So, as a writer, when questions like these suddenly flood your mind, it is a sign. It’s a sign your brain wants to explore this, it wants to discover. Let it. Even if it is just an exercise, a quick jotting of thoughts, a Q&A with your subconscious – let it happen. William Faulkner once saw a pair of soiled undies up in a tree. That’s all, just nasty drawers, hanging from a branch. For some reason that image burned into his psyche and he couldn’t shake it. He kept asking himself, How the hell did they get up there? When he sat down to let his brain explore it, the resulting work was titled The Sound and the Fury.
I took a drive after my visit to that post office, and during that drive, questions gave way to new questions. What would inspire a nation of gentle natured, Timbits loving lumberjacks to declare war on the States? Perhaps the United States government turns on its citizens. It’s happened before in other parts of the world. Then the thought of that, the sheer magnitude of what that would entail, to the lives of Americans, Canadians – to the world – started roiling. And specifically, what would happen to the people living in the boonies of New England, right on the border of the country that has declared war against them? I answered many questions for myself, questions that turned innocent Americans into victims of something dark and Canadian troops the white knights that come to attempt to defend us.
Stephen King says that the habit of keeping a notebook for your writing ideas is the equivalent of “building a graveyard for bad ideas.”
The stories that are worth telling – the stories you are meant to tell – they don’t need to be written down. They don’t need to be jotted down ad nauseum whenever a tiny snowflake falls. If they dig in their claws, there will be no loosing their grip. They’ll come back again and again. Until you honor them, or die a shell of a human being because you denied the muse that honored you.
Needless to say, there’s a woman now living on the northern border of war torn New Hampshire, in my mind. She was an English professor before the war, now she’s in a militia, teaching the children of others given that the rural school system is completely defunct. Yet, her best impact on the people she fights with is her skill with her late grandfather’s M1 Garand. Do I know her name? No. Do I know the details of the war? Some. Yet, the thing I know best is the image of troops making their way through the woods from Canada – troops that would be considered the enemy – and I see her and her militia – a militia of men and women who either refused to give up guns when the government came for them, men and women who deserted the military when its purpose turned against its citizens, men and women who simply want to live, men and women who make up the last standing opposition to their oppressors – cutting them off to warn them of an ambush of American troops to the south.
Needless to say, I now have a post apocalyptic novel in my head. All because my Postman is a conspiracy theorist.
It was a good day.