Idea Box

Where is your creative hot spot?  I have two: my shower and my car.  I generate ninety-nine percent of my ideas while shampooing my hair or driving north on Meridian Street.  Like most only-children, in order to be creative, I need quiet.

When I have an idea, I must immediately record it.  Why should I let the good ones slip through my fingers, just because I’m shaving my knee caps?  Better to step out of the shower, scribble a few words on a piece of scrap paper, and follow my watery footsteps back to finish off my knees.  What of those ideas born in the car?  I keep a notepad or iPhone at my fingertips.  When stopped at a red light, I jot it down or send myself an email.  Then I relax and enjoy the ride.

I have lots of notes to myself around the house.  It must annoy my husband – just last night he came across one such note and thought it was a honey-do list.  To avoid confusion, I collect most of the notes in my idea box.  Yes, I have an idea box.  It is a black cardboard box, with a lid, about the same width and length as a sheet of printer paper.  When I’m fresh out of ideas, I open it, rummage through my notes, and see what inspires me (but mostly I read them and think, “What the hell was I thinking?”).

The idea of the idea box came from a novelist – unfortunately I can’t remember her name.  I wonder if poets have idea boxes.  Does Ted Kooser have an idea box?  If he does, I’ll bet it’s cherry red, immaculate, and sitting on the floor of his garage, beneath a garden shovel.  If Billy Collins has an idea box, he probably decoupaged it with newspaper clippings and ticket stubs.

Here’s a Ted Kooser poem that must have lived, albeit briefly, in his idea box.  It is a flash of brilliance that must have been born in the middle of a morning shave or a commute.  The idea is so clever that you can hear his brain crackling:


By Ted Kooser

Pulling away from a stoplight
with a tire’s sharp bark,
he lifts his scuffed boot and kicks at the air,
and the old dog of inertia gets up with a growl
and shrinks out of the way.

Reading that poem is like watching neurons fire in Ted Kooser’s brain.  Can’t you just see the nodes connecting?  Why can’t I have Ted Kooser’s neurons?  Just for a day?  I can assure you there is nothing that clever in my idea box.


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