People often ask writers where they get their ideas from. I never really know what to say to this. It’s not as if there’s a shop where you can go to buy them. They don’t tumble out of vending machines along with your can of soda or turn up like lost socks from behind the washing machine or get discovered in the pocket of your winter coat along with an old cinema ticket and half a packet of mints.
The truth is far more mysterious and hard to explain.
Last weekend I took JR to the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta. We flew from Boston, arrived in the evening and went straight to the aquarium the next day. It’s huge. We saw giant manta rays and whale sharks and jellyfish and beluga whales and tropical fish as plentiful as autumn leaves. It was wonderful. But although we arrived early, the aquarium filled up within minutes with other tourists and we had to share the sights, jostling a little to get a view of the seahorses and the stingrays, standing in line to catch the dolphin show, waiting our turn to take a picture of the giant octopus.
But still, wonderful.
The next day we had to go home. Our plane left at noon. There wasn’t really enough time to visit the aquarium again. But we couldn’t resist. This time, we had a plan. We got to the entrance a half hour early. We were the first in the line. When the doors opened, we ran inside. We ran across the main concourse and down the tunnel where the fish swim over your head. Then we ran straight into the area that housed the vast tank. Great bands of sunlight fell through the turquoise water and there they were; the cruising whale sharks, the manta rays turning their slow cartwheels, the smaller fish drifting by in shifting clouds.
For thirty seconds we were quite alone. It was all ours. And we looked at the animals in a different way than we’d done the day before. As if we were the very first people in the world to have ever seen such things.
That’s where ideas come from.