I just returned from an annual trip to the East Coast to visit family. If you live far from home, and only go once a year, you know how these "vacations" are, right? You wait all year to see loved ones, and yet, after a week, everyone is bickering and you desperately need a vacation from your vacation. The worst part is returning exhausted & stressed out, with your next "vacation" looming 365 days away.
This time though, part way through the trip, we went to NYC, one of my happy places. I hadn't been in years, and although there were changes, what struck me the most was how much the Big Apple remains the same--vibrant and invigorating. I usually stay in the Upper West Side, a residential area with nearly everything you might need to feel at home. Yoga studio? Check. Good restaurants? Check. Excellent supermarkets? Everywhere. Need a culture fix? Museums galore. The Met or the Natural History Museum are only a few minutes walk. Got kids? The Central Park Zoo is a gem. It is just the right size for a quick visit and boasts a rainforest, penguins, otters, grizzly bears (one of whom apparently likes to have her teeth brushed and willingly opens her mouth to have it done) and a snow leopard, among other animals.
The best part of my trip was the constant creative inspiration. My recharging began the minute we hopped on the Amtrak from Providence, with the rhythmic rolling of the train over the tracks, my stress dissipating like humidity in the desert. By the time we reached Penn Station, I had a number of ideas for new stories, and, thanks to the free wifi, was even able to do a little research.
Once there, for four blissful days we wandered the city, dipping into markets, restaurants and museums, with no set plan other to enjoy ourselves and let serendipity, which is so important to creativity, rule. This meant impulsive--yet relaxed--dinners at street-side tables watching the city and its many dogs meander past, and lazy post-prandial strolls as we absorbed the energy around us.
A woman with curly red hair seated next to me but overflowing from her small booth, spoke to friends (in English & Spanish) in the booth behind us: "Claro, she was my cousin, and, like her, I'm a singer, but I didn't know her well. She had a difficult life. After the affair, the press was terrible. He was married, you see. Her career was never the same."
Her voice was melodious, and laughter, bright. Every so often she punched the air with her hand to make a point, and her sparkly silver bracelets tangled like wind chimes. With her arm thrust in the sky, she reminded me of the statue of liberty.
Pure creative magic! I can't wait to use these two characters in a story. Maybe even in the same story....
So next time you have an extended vacation with relatives, give everyone a break and take a side trip. Listen for stories. Capture characters. Write them down. Your creativity and sanity will thank you for it. And you'll have some good story ideas when you return.