Monday, June 05, 2006

Tar Pits and Ideas

Most of you probably don't live in a place where you experience this, at least not on a daily basis, but tar bubbles up out of the ground here. Weird. I know. But I see it every day.

Now before you go thinking I'm talking about the whole Los Angeles, area. I'm not. Well, at least I assume I'm not. I'm just talking about my little corner of weirdo paradise. A little strip know as the Miracle Mile. You've heard of it in the movies, you've read about it in books - specifically those of Raymond Chandler. It's like those other iconic L.A. locations: the Sunset Strip, Hollywood and Vine, Rodeo Drive.

Another famous L.A. landmark is the La Brea Tar Pits. The tar pits, see, they're right on the Miracle Mile. That's a two for one for all you tourists out there. I see both of them every day. My day job is on the Mile. All right, smart a building on the mile. In fact, if I stand up from my desk in the cube farm and look out the window, I can actually see the main pit across the street. It's not easy to miss. They've got a family of staged mammoths to demonstrate the dangers of the pits.

The tar pits are a part of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) complex. Surrounding the pits is a beautiful grass park. I walk through that park almost every day. What I've noticed over time is that occasionally tar starts bubbling up in unexpected places. There are two new miniture eruptions right on my path in the middle of a large grass expanse.

The tar got me to thinking about ideas. And how ideas pop up at any time from unexpected places. It could be someone we see walking down the street. It could be a news story we read. It could something we've heard from a friend. Or it could be something that pops into our heads for no apparent reason at all. (For a more detailed post about the genesis of an idea, read Jeffrey Cohen's excellent and hilarious entry at Murderati from June 4.)

I marvel at that process. I love that moment an idea hits me. There's nothing like it. These idea moments happen to everyone. I mean EVERYONE. Someone might swinging their cart around a corner at a super market when they have an idea that shows them the exact ratio of acceloration to turning angle they need to win the Indy 500. Someone might be searching blindly for the snooze button when they come up with the idea that planting a bougainvillea in a certain spot would be the perfect touch to their front yard. Or someone might be having breakfast with someone they're not particularly fond of and realize that writing a story about a serial killer that targets cereal tycoons would be great.

Perhaps the first person could become a world class race driver, the second a successful landscape architect, and the third a published author.


But it's just as likely that these three would become none of these things.

Getting the ideas is just the first step. It's what we do with these ideas that determine our paths. Let me repeat: It's what WE (you and I) do with these ideas that determine our paths. If we don't, it'll just be a lot of woulda, shoulda, coulda. If you want to be a writer, then you take the ideas and you write. Doesn't matter where they came from. They're going to bubble up in unexpected places. You're job is to do something about them, not just say, "Hey, look at that. That would make a good story," and then move on.

Ideas are great. But they remain only ideas, until you act.

What are you going to do with your ideas?


t said...

I haven't got a clue... any ideas :) just kidding.
You know, I think a vital aspect to what you are speaking of is that it so important to have trusted folks in your life that can help you to bring those ideas to fruition. I know in my own experience that there were thoughts and ideas that never saw the light of day again once they were shared with and pooh poohed by a person whose opinion I valued. Sometimes it was a good thing that the person was kind enough to head me off at the pass :). Other times perhaps not. Just a thought that one might need to examine several things when seeking a second opinion. The first being, the motivation of the person with whom you are speaking to either endorse and encourage or to negate and dissuade you from pursuing something. I say, follow your heart. What a world we would be in if nobody was ever willing to risk a little to pursue a new idea.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I feel like ideas are everywhere, but it boils down to letting them simmer on the backburner. Either they evaporate and there's nothing there, or some yummy smell starts giving you ideas of other spices to throw into the mix.

Now I'm going to run over to JB's and say the same thing, or can you tell her, since you're in her brain today?

angie said... the serial/cereal killer thing. I read a graphic novel several years ago (might have been a Sandman) where serial killers had a convention under the guise of a cereal convention. I remember being pissed that somebody had already put that idea into play...wish it had been me.

And, uh, that's kinda creepy with the whole tar bubbling up through the grass. Eurgh! But some of my ideas are kinda creepy too, so good analogy.

JT Ellison said...

I desperately try to pawn my ideas off, so I can get royalties later on.
I've found that some ideas are perfect for novels, and some are perfect for short stories. Which takes a lot of pressure off, because before I started playing with short/flash fiction, I kept trying to force the little ideas into big ones. This makes life much easier.

Alexandra Sokoloff said...

Good grief, Brett - you're making me miss the tar!