My roommate Carrie and I were sitting on the patio by the side door which faces our neighbors’ yard. On their patio, next to their garbage cans, was a large box, probably for a television. Carrie speculated on why they might need a new one. I really didn’t care.
She told me that I wasn’t curious enough to be a writer. That I should look at that box and wonder what story is behind it. Maybe the neighbors are aliens and the new TV is a communication device (which made me think of This Island Earth) or maybe they had a poltergeist in the old TV and they had to get a new one (which made me think of, you know, Poltergeist).
I shook my head at both of those ideas (which she considered an insult) and told her that for me a TV box by the garbage wasn’t a story. The recurring personal ad in the paper that just said “Please Forgive Me. Barbara Smith” was a story.
The conversation ended with Carrie basically telling me I was wrong, but it did get me to thinking.
Stephen King has said that stories are found things. I believe that. I find stories anywhere and everywhere. That night I found my story in a newspaper, not next to a trashbin. I’ve found stories doing laundry, taking a shower, watching TV, driving past cornfields, doing all sorts of mundane, every day life things.
I don’t find stories everywhere I go. I don’t expect to. Not every story is meant for me to find. I’ve been known to find stories that aren’t for me. I’ve tried to write them, but they never turned out well. So I try to be smarter about that. I leave those stories for other people and only pick the stories I know are meant for me. I’m developing my sense for that now and I’m getting better at it. The idea notebook has been a great asset in that respect.
So in the end, the stories Carrie found might be valid, great stories. They might take the nation by storm and inspire a bunch of people. And that’s terrific. Unfortunately, I didn’t find them. They weren’t there for me to find. Maybe someone else will.
But when I looked across the driveway at the neighbors’ back patio all I saw was an empty TV box sitting next to a trashcan.
The story was nowhere to be seen.