I’m sitting at my kitchen table, holding the assignment sheet for my next interview. Finally, I suck in a deep breath and dial the number on it.
“Hello, you’ve reached the Three of Cups. How may I help you?” A man’s voice, polished and professional.
“Yes.” I clear my throat. “I’m the journalist for the Tea with Strangers blog.” That was my attempt at sounding professional. It doesn’t last long. “I was actually wondering if maybe it might be possible to move our interview up just a few days. If they’re free.”
“Would you like to give them the reason?”
“I have some free time now.” It sounds as lame as it is. The truth is, I have lots of time this week, and absolutely no inspiration to write anything. It’s a sad state for a writer. Neither coffee nor hard exercise nor sleep nor booze nor weed has sparked any ideas that I actually care about. So, I figured I might as well work on my assignment.
The man sounds sympathetic anyway. “Let me see. I’ll talk with them and get back to you.”
I sit back and roll a pencil between my fingers. A little over an hour later, my cell phone rings. Star Wars theme, of course, making my life sound exciting. If only I could go to a galaxy far, far away. I force myself to wait until the second ring to answer it.
“It would be possible for you to talk with them today,” he said, “provided you don’t mind the unusual circumstances.”
My focus is total now.
He continues. “You see, the subjects are scheduled to take a hot air balloon ride, and said they would be happy to provide you an interview, if you could ride along.”
Ride along. “In the car on the way there, you mean?”
He clears his throat and says apologetically, “No, they are already there. You would have to ride along in the balloon.”
“I.” Can hardly speak. “That would be just fine,” I manage. “I could totally, absolutely do that.” I wipe a little droplet of spittle off the corner of my mouth. “I could leave now. Where are they?”
He gives me a location. It takes me seven and a half minutes to get my things and get into my car. It takes me three minutes and forty-five seconds to get to the highway. I keep an eye on the speedometer, because it just keeps creeping up. Oh, I will not get pulled over today.
When I was a toddler, my parents took my older brother and sister for a ride in a balloon. I was too young to ride, then, but I was not too young to long for it. I was not too young to remember. And all my life, I have wanted to do this, but could never justify the expense. Stopped at a light on the way out of town, I let myself squeal like a teakettle at full boil.
The field itself, where the balloon is being prepared, is beautiful, a sunlit grassy meadow framed by forests in all directions. The three women, my subjects of interview, are beautiful, dressed in their exquisite ancient gowns and piled hair, casually dangling glasses of wine and feathered fans. The balloon — the balloon is so beautiful, in sunset orange and crocus purple, silver and gold threads over cobalt, crimson, cerulean, that I cannot stop myself from walking to it directly, admiring, as the heat lifts it into shape. In a few moments, after I have remembered my manners and introduced myself, we have been lifted up into the sky in this glorious human invention. As we float over the land below, it’s clear I should have done this a long, long time ago.
My subjects agree, pouring more wine for us.
“I’m sure you will find,” says the one I mentally named Mermaid for her blue and green dress, “that your inspiration will return to you after this experience. Artistic inspiration is excitement for an idea, for a project. No more and no less. And how can you feel that excitement in your art when you don’t have it in your life?”
The woman in the peach colored dress leans back, looking up at the sky, letting her hair dangle down over the edge of the basket. “But do remember,” she says, “and this is important: you have to always have something in the future that you are looking forward to. Doing a fun thing and then thinking, that’s all you need and now you should be able to write, is quite the wrong way to go about it; you must have that little thrill toward the future that can resonate with the thrill of an idea.”
“So,” says the third, the gold-and-green gowned woman, fresh as spring, “when was the last time you felt really excited?”
When was the last time you got excited, when the very thought of something made your body float like a bubble and your smile pop like fireworks?
You need to feel this in your life, so that you can feel it for your writing. You need to feel it outside your writing first. You need to have fun. All work and no play not only makes Jack a dull boy, it makes Jack’s writing dull as cold ash.
Make a list of moments in your life when you felt excited. Reach back, if you need to, even all the way to childhood. A visit to an amusement park? A birthday party? Riding your bike down the big hill, flying, knowing you are actually riding your very own Pegasus? Getting together with friends for a concert, or even better, a music festival?
Now make a list of things that might excite you now. They could be large, like a year long sailing voyage, or small, like a dinner party, or a visit to a new museum.They could be common, like a trip to that farmer’s market you saw last year, or obscure, like learning to read an ancient language. Maybe you’d like to get a tattoo, but haven’t yet justified it. Maybe you’d like to spend the day entirely alone, surrounded by books, in a library in a new city. Maybe you’d like to rescue another cat. You deserve to do something that would thrill you now. You deserve to do these things regularly. You are a writer, and writers change the world by influencing the way readers think, but writers don’t live on bread alone; they must taste ambrosia, so they can describe the taste of divinity to other mortals. When excitement is a part of your life, your writing self will know how to come alive with just the right idea.
The air around me, the misty cloud we pass through, feeds an old story idea I’d long forgotten. The thrill of riding in the balloon resonates with this thrill of the new idea, the new world to explore, the new characters to fall in love with. When I get home, I am once again at my kitchen table, but this time with my laptop, typing long into the night.