That first essay is called The Trigger – What gives rise to a story? I’ve long had theories about this subject for my own work. I’ve noticed that my most compelling ideas seem to come at, as Dickens might say, “The Best and Worst of Times.” Emotionally vulnerable points – times of elation or immense sadness, great days or days I’d rather forget.
The idea for The Ocean Between Lost and Found came around Thanksgiving in 2011. My aunt, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, had visited my sister’s house from her care home to enjoy the holiday with us. Turkey and apple pie consumed, the day turned to evening and we needed to get her back . Back then, she was having a lot of trouble with one of her legs. She often couldn’t make it work quite right. As we tried to get her into the car, she fell in the cold, snowy driveway and it took four or five of us to maneuver her upright again. There was a moment I didn’t think we’d be able to do it. I’ll admit it – part of me wanted to cry in that moment.
Eventually we got her back to her home. The nurses asked my brother-in-law and I to wait in the hall while they helped her into her night clothes and into bed for the night. Everyone was exhausted, mentally, physically and emotionally.
We stood in silence for a few minutes, until he asked me a question that would set me on a multi-year project. See, my brother-in-law’s a bit of a maritime expert and he knew of my connection to Japanese culture through my practice of kyudo. The disastrous Tohoku earthquake and tsunami had occurred just that previous March. So of course he wanted to know: Had I heard about all that debris from the Japanese tsunami spinning in the Pacific?
And the rest was history. See, I was particularly vulnerable at that moment. It was not the best of days. And – I believe because of that vulnerability – my eyes were open. I was prepared to fall in love with an idea, a concept, the characters that filled it. And I did. With that one question at that precarious moment, several disparate concepts that had been floating around in my head for a long time suddenly coalesced into a single something that enthralled me.
As Spark’s essay on this same subject (which I encourage you to buy her book and read) ends, she tells a story about being with a group of women writers on an outing one day. They were visiting a cave in Wisconsin that Spark describes as a “rather tacky tourist spot.”
The women in the group were predominately single at the time, and Spark mentions her relationship status affecting the mood of the day: “…my sense of that day – and it may have been a projection of my own situation at the time – was a shameful female irritation that there weren’t any good guys around. I don’t remember much about the cave, save that the walls were creepily veined and that the tour guide turned off the lights so we could experience the complete darkness of the cave. When the lights were flicked on, there was Lorrie [Moore], taking notes. Notes! I thought. What could she find here?”
Lorrie Moore would go on, two years later, Spark reports, to publish a story named “The Jewish Hunter” in the New Yorker, which took place partially in a fictitious cave. The work was clearly inspired at least in part by that day in Wisconsin that Spark herself admits she didn’t have much enthusiasm for.
“…I felt something else, too: jealousy. Sure, we’d all met the guy, but only one of us had the skill to fall in love.”
Keep your eyes and hearts open, writers. And be ready to fall in love. With the world, with ideas, with life. That’s who we are.