One of the perennial items tossed at every living writer in almost every interview is “Where do you get your ideas?”
One well-known writer famously provided an address for an Ideas Shop in Schenectady (and had people TAKE HIM SERIOUSLY). I usually say that I have an Ideas Tree growing out back (and I’ve had people take THAT semi-seriously).
Most writers, though, when confronted with the Question, simply fling their arms up in resignation and say “EVERYWHERE!” And they are, of course, right. Look at the last week of news.
First we had the Fairy Tale – the dashing young man in the scarlet uniform, the blushing bride with the tiara, the Kiss on the Balcony. The fairy tale of marriage, enacted Grand Scale – the horses, the carriages, the gorgeous dresses (and the unbelievable hats), the pageant and the panoply. The couple roared off in an Aston Martin. This is the way stories are born, and built, and accreted to, tales like barnacles on hoary old original stories which are falling apart with age and antiquity. We add things, new things like the Aston Martin. But we still grow misty-eyed at young love, at the Prince and Princess on their wedding day, and we still spin fairy tales.
Then, days after the Wedding Story, we have the story of War, and Death, and Revenge. The so-called “mastermind” of the 9/11 tragedy – and I use the word advisedly, and I do not mean just the falling towers in New York – Osama bin Laden is reported dead. America dissolves into triumph. At last, the smear on American pride is avenged, and the man who dared to attack the Greatest Nation on Earth has met his end at American hands.
And was buried post-haste. The Internet spouts something about Muslim tradition… and a *sea burial.* Which is on the face of it ridiculous. There are backtrackings saying that there was a mis-speak somewhere that all anybody meant to say is that bin Laden was buried “within 24 hours, as per Muslim tradition”. Whatever the story, I don’t think there’s a body there to be seen, a death there to confirm. The conspiracy theorists can now start lining up, please, with various and increasingly outlandish reasons as to why this is all a whitewash and Osama isn’t REALLY dead, etc etc etc. The mundane details just get in the way of a good legend being born.
The ostensible reason for American wars being waged on the Afghanistan and Pakistan fronts was supposedly bin Laden (and man, it took them TEN YEARS TO FIND THE DUDE?…) One would think that now this is over the troops over there are going to be brought home post-haste. I wouldn’t hold my breath. There’s a story here that’s now greater than the sum of its parts. The holy war is going to be hard to rein in, particularly since even the gung-ho triumphalists parading about wrapped in flags and screaming “Mission REALLY accomplished!” are aware, have GOT to be aware on some fundamental level, that this is a head cut off a Hydra. At least until now the Americans KNEW who the enemy was; he was the bogeyman who flung the planes at the New York towers. But who’s going to take his place? OF COURSE America will have to remain in the back country of the ‘stans, until further notice, because they have to find out who the NEW Face of the Enemy is, track him down, and cut another head off the Hydra. But it never ends, and the thing about the Hydra of Greek Mythology, is that it tends to regrow its chopped-off heads on a regular basis. War without end. Amen.
You can make a story for that. A Story. There it is, lying there right at your feet, ripe for picking up.
What else has been happening in the world lately? Elections in Canada? Only a little further back in the timeline, the tsunami in Japan? Human beings, living every day. Dealing with death and taxes, weddings, tragedies and joys, triumph and revenge, hypocrisy, making mistakes, casting votes, traveling in airplanes, winning prizes, paying bills, cooking meals, burying loved ones or welcoming new ones into the world, falling down and picking themselves up and starting all over again.
We’ll take that with us, when we take our first steps towards the stars. This capacity for making lives into legends, people into archetypes, history into myth.
We are a race that is built of Story. And there are stories… everywhere.