Almost anything can inspire me to write. As Stephen King would say, "Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, while the rest of us just get up and go to work." There's no reason to force inspiration, and sometimes, it's best to make time and push out some creativity. However, when it comes to my fiction, a story really fleshes out when I discover a new fear.
While no one enjoys the sensation of being lost, I always feel I have a good handle on location and rarely panic when I make a wrong turn. Let's face it, some of us aren't as geographically savvy as others. When we're totally lost, we're scared shitless for a moment. That's me in New York last summer. And the following is what both provided inspiration for a story and the fearful turn it needed.
Oh, you know . . . Harlem's beautiful around midnight.
For me, New York City was a dream that never came true - not yet, that is. Under the impression life was actually working itself out for me, I traveled to the New York Arts Program around Chelsea, NY in hopes of picking up a few internships so I could start a meaningful career while I attended the school and furthered the occupational side of my writing education. In case you didn't know, all the skills they laughed at you for in the Midwest were crucial to daily functions on the East Coast. (Go ahead and check Career Builder for creative writing jobs in Indiana. Filter the scammers and pyramid plans before telling me what you think. Now change the location to New York.)
I won't lie, when I was in New York the real thrill derived from meeting up with an old Hoosier chum and putting down single-serving bottles of vodka, orange juice, rum, cola, and I think tequila was in the mix. This might have inspired the Writing Drunk Blog.
At any rate, I was having a blast hanging out with this pal and became even more ecstatic when I went to my placement interview. I must've done something right, because there were job leads in my hand minutes into the process. Every time I mentioned I wrote, someone gladly recommended me to a business. I mean seriously?! Writing + Job = Me? In the Midwest, most people considered writing a hobby, but not as cool as catcalling, crayfish catching, or mushroom hunting.
At this point I felt like a real haas. After all the midday rendezvous and endless supply of complimentary drinks, I decided to wind down and return to my hotel near the LaGuardia Airport. My watch said it was around 9pm, so I decided an early night wouldn't be so bad, especially since I had more interviews the next day.
I hopped on subway and eventually took the M60 bus, which should have led me from Manhattan back to Queens, near the airport. Should have.
It was Sears all over again.
Too many people gave Queen a lot of shit. It's really not the worst place in the world, and even with certain comforts (like a full-sized bed, your own place, a room you have to walk across, a garage, a giant couch, lower rent, etc) one had to sacrifice to live in Queens, it's really a lot cheaper than the other boroughs and close to almost everything. I'll admit, Queens wasn't the home of as many famous landmarks as, say, Harlem or Manhattan.
One building that is definitely nowhere near the LaGuardia Airport is the Apollo Theater (not to be confused with the Apollo Theatre in England). Any other day, I wouldn't have minded visiting the Apollo in what's left of its glory, but after an hour-long bus ride, it wasn't the place you wanted to see.
At first sight of the Apollo, thoughts of my childhood conjured in my panicky mind. I recalled living near South Bend, Indiana and losing track of my parents in a giant Sears. I'm pretty sure they lost me, since my family likes to take off and wander during any sort of trip, but that's neither here nor there. This was my first experience of feeling lost. I didn't know the mall very well, but I knew I was in Sears, so if I didn't see them, they weren't there. All I had to do was roam around the mall and see where my family went. For some reason my parents rather enjoyed the color teal and found it to be the ultimate fashion expression, so spotting them out of a crowd should'nt have been too difficult.
That's until I realized there was also a downstairs and an upstairs to the mall. I never ventured underground, but a security guard soon pulled me to the side and asked if my folks were upstairs, which apparently, was still Sears.
I think this was the worst of my experience. While being lost was frustrating and provoked certain phobias, having someone pull me aside and prescribe me as lost was even more daunting. It wasn't as though they were going to help me find my parents or even announce I was at the security desk. They merely labeled me as lost and let me sit, hoping someone would see me.
It was the same sensation I felt while I circled around the block of the Apollo, searching for direction. Although I was not entirely certain, New Yorkers could most likely smell outsiders. Granted I was born and spent some of my youth in New Jersey, I'm pretty sure someone took a glance at me and thought, Yup, he's lost. Whether a child or adult, when you're lost, it really sucked when someone knew you were stranded yet refused to offer a helping hand or advice.
It was nearly 11pm by the time I returned to the front of the Apollo. By now I knew none of the buses would take me back, and the hell if I knew of a train still running. What was neat about being lost in 2011, as opposed to when I was younger, was the advantage of a smartphone. There happened to be an app for finding subway stations. What telecommunication companies failed to reveal about smartphones was that isolated applications were an inefficient process and drained your batteries within mere minutes.
Yay for the app. No, the phone went dead.
That night, though, when I finally arrived to my hotel room, I really just needed to crash. My emotions were toyed with. My body was sore. And after a few drinks, my stomach was seasick. The downside to being a writer was that you sometimes wrote while you bled to death. Hidden in my room with my laptop was a copy of No-Injury Policy halfway finished. I started a story up that really needed a strong punch in the gut, and during my totally planned Harlem visit, I found the inspiration I needed.
The entire time I meandered through the dark depths of Harlem, I wondered who followed me. There were always people near and sometimes way too fucking near. I wondered if anyone preyed on lost fools such as myself. I wondered if one wrong turn could end in a mugging. For some reason I didn't fear death. Maybe it didn't seem plausible at the time, or maybe it was because there were worse things to fear than death. Really, dying in New York City wasn't a total loss. It beat dying in Indiana.
With only the fear of being mugged or harassed, I wondered if anyone had jumped the wrong guy before. I wanted to be that guy. I imagined being some just-out-of-prison guy who turned around to the predators and threatened them right back. So when I was in my room, I wrote about that guy.
The end result was a story called "Last Stop", which will appear in No-Injury Policy this fall. While I never assume people will read my work just because I write, I do hope someone out their appreciates the story behind the story. You'll also notice a few scenes where the protagonist is identified as lost but never helped as well as numerous reality-based obstacles during the man's journey back home.
If you're working on a story that needs a zap of something, go get lost. Out of town. Out of state. Maybe out of this world.
Thanks for reading.
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Fear, focus, and the future. C.M. Humphries talks about writing, horror, and whatever.