My foot’s itchy.
This, of course, signifies the presence of story ideas. Or maybe hookworm. One of those.
When I was a kid, my mother would say that an itchy foot meant you were going to walk on strange ground. When it came to random folk superstitions, it was right up there with not breaking mirrors and wearing an item of clothing inside-out when you go blueberry picking so you don’t get stolen by the Fair Folk. I must have heard that one—all of them, really—a dozen times a month. And they never really struck me. It’s just part of being a kid, especially in Newfoundland.
Then, this morning, as I was drinking my coffee and watching the sun and snow make Murder Icicles on my eaves, my foot started to itch. And I thought, Strange ground is coming.
And that, children, is where story ideas come from.
I’d heard that little bit of nonsense for decades; I’ve even said it myself. But that’s a damn strange thing to think watching the sun rise over the snow, the only one awake in the house.* And the strangeness of the situation makes me think about the phrase itself. About how it’s not “you’re going to go somewhere new”. It’s strange ground.
I’m not going to labour this too much, so here’s the Cole’s Notes version: never underestimate the potential strangeness of everyday things. Especially when seen in the cold shadowless light of dawn.
You want a never-ending fountain of inspiration? Just fill up your brain and see what weird-ass wine gets made when it ferments. Find what strikes you at odd times. For me it’s often phrases; I had a similar experience at the Farmer’s Market last week when I was lining up to buy beer from a local microbrewery. They sell it in big glass jugs called growlers, a term that goes back a long way. I read a book on Prohibition a while back** and they talked about children going to the local bars with a container to pick up beer for their parents. It was called ‘rushing the growler’. And that’s another story idea, as well as the title to go with it.
Both strange ground and rushing the growler had been floating around between my ears for a while. In the case of the former, for decades. But they needed that one little moment of oddness to float above the swirling chaos in there and become ideas.
Find your weird. All your stories are there.
*By nature, I’m an early riser. The Snowman, on the other hand, prefers a lie-in.
**Last Call by Daniel Okrent. Very good.