Sunday, March 30, 2014

You Search for It Until It Finds You

When I was a young hormone, I once asked my father for advice on winning a girl's heart. I must have really liked that girl, because broaching such a topic with my father, at that age, was about as uncool and desperate an act I could imagine.

He started well.

"Chase her," he said. "Until she catches you."

That took me a minute. Gradually, strategies no doubt completely at odds with my father's meaning started  taking shape within the lines of my one-track mind. Show interest, but not too much. Call her, but a little later than you said you would. Look cool, not needy. I thought that maybe the old man was on to something. Then he blew it. He suggested I ask her to meet me at the library. 

The library? A girl? On a date? Um, right. Thanks, Dad.

I was reminded of this scene the other morning when something I'd been pursuing finally caught me. For weeks, I'd been trying to nail down the premise for a story. My efforts included exhaustive lists of themes that I find most interesting, the things I most like to read: relationships, betrayals, redemption, coming of age, death, change, sex, character development, endurance, individualism, families, friendships, loneliness, regret, hope, fear, triumph, defeat. Nothing seemed to be working. I started paging through my advice books: Lamott, Lerner, King, Zinsser, Burroway, Truby, Brande, Goldberg, Gardner. I outlined Campbell's Hero With a Thousand Faces, Vogel's Writer's Journey. I started and abandoned outlines, made notes on plot, character, conflict, inciting incidents, climaxes, cute meets, story beats, red herrings, beginnings, endings, middle acts. Created and discarded dozens of index cards. Scribbled madly in my writer's-block journal. And with each attempt, doubt grew. I saw the road ahead. Depression. Surrender. The writing on the ash-filled urn: Close, But No Cigar.

And then, as I stared out the window after staring at the blank computer screen after staring at my empty coffee cup after waking that morning convinced I was the Sahara of Inspiration, the Death Valley of Compelling, the Blue Hole (Ohioans will understand) of ideas: Boom. It slapped me a few times so that I could see it clearly. And in answer to my question, it said, "Been here the whole time, dumb ass. You were just too needy."

So wish me luck.  Bon voyage. Safe trip. Happy trails. Here we go.

And thanks, Dad.