Monday, May 9, 2016

When an Essay Idea Simmers...and Then Moves to the Front Burner

For about two years, I knew I wanted to write something about the day my family and I tried to take my aging mother to see a play in New York City, and things didn't go as expected. I knew it was about: Mom, thwarted plans, a bit of sadness or regret….and, well, something else I couldn't quite name.

So the idea/itch resided where so many similar ones do – in my notebook, in the farthest back of my brain, maybe a little bit inside my heart and—in limbo. So many of the essays and short memoir pieces I write start there. Some spend more time there than others. Some end there too.

Unless, or until, something happens.

In this case, it was a theme call I noticed for a planned essay anthology, about "the theater" that jolted me into action. Suddenly I realized, while my story was about all of those things I mentioned above, what it was truly about was my mother's relationship to the act of going to Broadway plays, what that meant for me, and her bittersweet quest to see just one more.

While the piece I eventually wrote wasn't accepted for that anthology, "Jersey Nights on Broadway," found a lovely home this past winter at a wonderful site that features quirky, sad, funny, unusual, and everyday true stories about New York City.

If you've ever stopped to consider how something a parent began for you at a young age has threaded through both of your lives, you might like to read it over at Mr. Beller's Neighborhood. Here's a tiny excerpt: 
…When my mother aged, and even after she lost my father after 59 years of marriage, and her visits dwindled, and she found it hard to walk too far, she still asked, "What's good on Broadway?" Around 2009, on a springtime visit, she wanted to see Jersey Boys, and told me to buy good seats for us all – Frank, me, and our sons, then about 16 and 12….
 What do you do with your embryonic story ideas while they take their time growing into something?


Carole a photopoet said...

I write several different versions and go through several false starts.
Birthing a story or an essay can be an exciting, if frustrating, process because you know something wonderful is trying to bubble up, hut the delays seem interminable. So congratulations on finally getting to your truth!

Doreen McGettigan said...

My ideas are kept in very messy notebooks. It's almost an entire day project to look for one when I feel I'M ready to write it.
I firmly believe everything happens exactly when and how it's supposed too and I believe that about my stories too.
Your story is beautiful, it was time!

kario said...

I have scraps of paper all over the house - my desk, nightstand, file folders in the dining room and near the kitchen table - with scribbled nuggets of ideas on them. The stories themselves generally take shape when I'm in the shower or driving a long distance or walking the dog (in other words, when I am unable to write anything down). It's so crazy how my brain works, but the ones that keep coming up over and over again in different forms tend to be the ones that are most fun to write when they finally take shape. Glad this one worked out for you! Thanks for sharing.