Tag Archives: Inspiration

People Watching and the Holidays

Like many other places, Toronto’s malls, subway system, and other public places are bustling with activity at this time of the year. No matter when someone might use or visit them in the month of December, there will be far more folks there than will be the case in January when the new year has finally arrived and everyone has settled back into their usual routines.

One of the things I like about this point in the winter holiday season are the opportunities it gives for people watching. I will be returning to the usual subjects for this blog soon, but I can’t stop thinking about this topic and thought it would make a good one for today.

There are so many folks out and about now that all of the stories they tell with their body language, facial expressions, and the occasional, accidentally overheard conversations provide endless scope for the imagination. You can learn so much about them by paying attention to how they behave when they think no one has noticed them.

I love seeing how people and animals interact with strangers, loved ones, and everyone in-between. You can learn a lot about someone based on how they present themselves and how they behave in public.

Dogs wiggle in excitement when their favourite, or sometimes any, human walks around the corner and into view. The occasional pet snakes, parrots, rabbits, and cats that I’ve seen folks carry around don’t seem to have a strong opinion about our species either way. Small children stare wide-eyed at the holiday displays, decorations, and advertisements in stores. Friends reunite, families figure out what to eat for lunch, couples embrace, and a million other interesting things happen simultaneously wherever large crowds of people gather.

There’s nothing like watching strangers live out these fleeting moments in their lives. The writerly portion of my mind can’t help but to make up stories about who these individuals are and what might happen to them after they’ve finished their to-do list and gone back home.

Not knowing if my guesses are actually correct or not only makes me more interested in continuing to play this game. Everyone that I’ve ever met has portions of their personalities, identities, and interests that aren’t easily or immediately noticeable when you first meet them. I love it when I notice little hints about these parts of themselves however those hints might be shared.

To be perfectly clear, this isn’t about stereotyping anyone or assuming that because they’re X they must love/hate/be indifferent to Y. (Let X and Y stand for whatever your imagination desires. I did not have anything specific in mind when I typed that sentence).

Instead, it’s about seeing how real people behave on a perfectly ordinary day that stands a very good chance of being neither the worst nor the best one they’re ever going to experience. In fact, they might not remember anything about it at all six months from now. They’re simply a regular person (or, in some cases, animal) going through the routines of their lives.

It’s the patterns that interest me the most. There are certain behaviours that just about everyone seems to share, especially when they’re feeling happy, hungry, or tired. On the other hand, I love seeing glimpses of the things that make each person unique.

I’m still looking forward to the quieter days to come in January, but in the meantime I’ll keep a friendly eye out for all of the things you can learn about strangers by noticing how they behave in public.

Do you like people watching? If so, when was the last time you did it?

10 Pictures That Are Begging to Be Turned Into Stories, Part Five

It’s been a while since I wrote another instalment for this series. Either the world of stock photos is gradually growing less strange or I’m getting used to the wilder side of this world. Fewer things are surprising me these days, so it took longer than normal to compile this list.

If you’re looking for some inspiration today, keep reading.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, I decided to start doing something constructive with all of the beautiful, haunting, bizarre, creative, and otherwise unique photos I kept finding on the various stock image sites I had on my RSS feed back in 2017. Every few months since then I’ve posted a list of the most unusual photos I’d found to see if any of my readers were interested in using them for any purpose.

Everything I share for this series is in the public domain. You don’t have to do anything special in order to use them.

In the past, I’ve written descriptions of how I’d use the pictures I share with my audience in this series. As much fun as it is to come up with theories about what could be happening in them, I think I’m going to leave it up to my readers to brainstorm everything this time around. My imagination is so strong that I don’t want to overwhelm your own theories about how these images can be used.

All I’m going to add to them is a brief description of what is happening in each photo for anyone who can’t see the photos I’m sharing for any reason. I look forward to seeing how you’d all react to this list and what you do with any of the images in it. Let me know if you use any of them!

A man wearing a wreath of flowers on his head and a pair of glasses that has a dandelion stuck to the middle of each frame.

A hand and forearm sticking straight up out the middle of a wheat field. It is still attached to the body of someone who is hopefully alive and well. 

 

A person wearing contact lenses that makes their eyes glow and makeup that gives their skin a blue, purple, and red hue. 

A person wearing a red hoodie, white gloves, and a mask that glows in the dark. 

A stylized and possibly long-exposure photograph of a city landscape and sky. Everything is arranged in a circle with the landscape being the centre of the shot and the sky being wrapped around it. 

A long, thin cactus poking out of a banana peel. 

A cattle skull sitting next to a decorated box filled with old-fashioned medicine. 

A long-exposure shot of a dancer. She has a pale, ghostly appearance due to how much she was moving during the shot. 

A bluejay sitting on a polished, wooden table and sticking its head into a metal saucer filled with milk.

 

A naughty grasshopper smoking a cigarette while sitting on a rock and staring out at a field of grass. 

Previous posts in this series:

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories, Part Two

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories, Part Three.

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories, Part Four.

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories, Part Four

If you’re looking for some inspiration today, keep reading.

A year ago, I decided to start doing something with all of the beautiful, haunting, bizarre, creative, and otherwise unique photos I kept finding on the various stock image sites I have on my RSS feed. That was how this series of posts originally came to be, and today I have another entry in it for you.

As usual, there is a brief description underneath every photo for all of my readers who can’t see the photos for any reason. I’ve also included my thoughts on how I’d use them in a story, poem, essay, or other creative work, but feel free to let your imaginations run wild.

I can’t wait to see how you all react to these images and what you do with them.

This is a picture of a tree stump that’s been carved into the shape of a person. The person’s head is tilted back, and he or she is gazing at the sky. There is a large crack in the tree that is splitting this carving’s neck down the middle.

Step one: carve the perfect sculpture into a tree.

Step two: magically convert all of the knowledge you’ve gained from this project into the energy to carve your greatest work into stone so that it will last for an eternity. When the carving is complete, bring the wooden sculpture back to your home and put it somewhere safe. As long as it is still standing, you will remain alive and well, too.

This is a picture of someone wearing a Guy Fawkes mask looking at a red flower that is sitting on the palm of their hand. 

All I can think about when I look at this photograph are the protests that used to happen in Toronto a few years ago. People wearing these masks often played a large part in those protests. It was fascinating to see how someone behaves (in a totally law-abiding way) when no one knows who they are. Their body language is more relaxed and their movements are freer than one generally sees in a stranger on the streets of this city.

Would you or I behave the same way in that situation? I’d like to think so. Maybe we’d even pause to admire a flower before jumping back into the protest.

 

This is a picture of a young woman whose body is covered in skimpy bandages and whose face is covered in indecipherable writing. She is staring directly at the person who took this picture. 

The first thing to pass through my mind when I saw this was: “why must so many Halloween costumes for women be ‘sexy’?” I have no problem at all with people of any gender choosing to wear revealing costumes on Halloween, but it bothers me that men’s costumes are generally made to look as realistic as possible while women’s costumes are usually made to look as revealing as possible.

As hard as I tried to find some supernatural or science fiction spin on this picture, the only thing it would inspire me to write is a long essay about the intersection between capitalism and sexism.

 

 

This is a picture of two discarded artificial legs lying on a dusty wooden floor. One of the legs is bigger and longer than the other one. 

These legs belong to the same kid. As that child grows up and needs larger artificial legs, they always make sure to pause and take a picture of the limbs they’ve left behind before moving onto the next one.

This isn’t a sad moment to me. It’s a happy one. Look at how much that kid has grown!

This is a picture of someone holding a piece of green moss that has had two googly eyes glued to it. 

After forgetting to buy a birthday present for her preschool-aged son, the main character decided to surprise him with a pet moss. She wasn’t expecting him to love it as he did, and she definitely wan’t expecting the pet moss to grow legs and begin scampering around the house one night.

This picture, titled “Cosmic Winter Wonderland,” is of region NGC 6357 in space. It is a birthplace for new stars. The stars in the photograph are surrounded by large clouds of dust that resemble the clouds made of water we have on Earth.

How did life first begin? Many people have wondered that over the years. I’d like to think it happened in a place as beautiful and peaceful as this one. Perhaps it could even be witnessed by aliens or other beings who were intelligent and long-lived enough to see it all play out.

 

This is a picture of a green parakeet. It is staring directly at the photographer. 

This bird looks slightly annoyed to me. Is it actually annoyed, though? Do birds have a similarly difficult time reading human body language?

If the first sentient aliens we ever met were avian-like, how well would our species be able to understand each other? Would they find us endearing the way humans often squeal over birds on Earth?

Why can’t I stop thinking about this scenario?

 

This is a picture of a barefoot woman who is sitting in a grocery cart. 

I love everything about this photo other than the fact that the subject is barefoot. It seems like such a dangerous place to walk around if you’re not wearing shoes.

Of course, the subject has probably heard this a thousand times before. She no doubt has some sort of invention to keep anything from cutting her feet as she runs around. Maybe she’s a scientist or a magician?

This is a picture of a man who is cosplaying in the forest. He’s carrying an ornate walking stick and wearing a green cloak and other Medieval-esque pieces of clothing. 

Anyone else would have been terrified by the sight of a dragon appearing in the sky and landing in the park one summer day. Marvin had played so many rounds of Dungeons & Dragons, though, that he was sure he could get it to fly home again.

This is a picture of an empty playground that is covered in fog.

What if Stephen King’s The Mist wasn’t just a story? We know how it ended in the parallel universe he tapped into while he was writing, but maybe this is how that tale will begin in our universe.

Previous posts in this series:

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories, Part Two

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories, Part Three.

5 Scifi Themes I Wish We Had More Stories About

I know there are fans and writers of the science fiction and fantasy genres who read this blog. Today, I wanted to talk about themes that I wish would be explored more often in these genres and pick your brains. If you know of any books that include these themes, come on over to Twitter and tell me about them.

If you don’t know of any stories that fit these descriptions, maybe it’s time for us to start writing them!

Sentient Plants

By far my favourite characters in the Lord of the Rings trilogy were the Ents. I was enthralled by the idea of a tree-like creature being as intelligent as any person, elf, or hobbit. The more I learned about their physiology, the more curious I became about what it would be like to exist in-between the world of plants and the world of mammals.

I’m struggling to think of any other examples of this kind of storytelling in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. Occasionally I’ll read something about an alien or magical plant that’s surprisingly dangerous, but they’re almost never able to carry on a conversation.

It’s hard to imagine what a plant would think about the world around us. How would staying in the same place for your entire life – more or less – while hoping that nothing eats you change the way you thought about everything from family to how dangerous this planet it? Would a plant be surprised by the human concept of war or understanding of it? How would they compare the seeds they dropped every year to how people raise their young?

If I knew more about biology, I’d have written a story about this already. The more I think about it, the more I feel the urge to research it enough to make educated guesses about what such a creature might be like. There is so much scope for the imagination here, as Anne Shirley would say.

A Replacement for Religion

Organized religion is in a rapid decline in western countries. Fewer people are attending religious meetings or labelling themselves as members of a particular faith with every passing generation.

What will western society be like when the majority of people label themselves as Atheist, Agnostic, None, or vaguely spiritual but without loyalty to any particular religion? Western Europe is a few decades ahead of North America in this process, so there are glimpses of what that kind of society will be like.

My question is, what, if anything, is going to replace religion as a widespread cultural understanding that binds a society together? Will it be sports? Pop culture? A rising interest in science? Nationalism? Has the idea itself of having one thing that most of a population grew up experiencing outlived itself?

How would a post-religious society interact with other countries on Earth that tend to be much more devout?

Yes, Star Trek has given us one vision of what this kind of future might look like, but I’d like to see other people’s extrapolations, too. Science fiction in general seems hesitant to explore religious themes in depth unless it was written specifically to proselytize or as part of the Inspirational genre.

I wish this wasn’t so. There are ways to explore people’s relationship to their faith (or lack thereof) without assuming the audience agrees with the character or trying to (de)convert anyone.

 

Life After Fossil Fuels

Eventually, we’re not going to be able to get enough oil, natural gas, and coal out of the Earth in order to sustain all of the systems that rely on those fuels to keep going. This moment could arrive far sooner than we realize, too.

I’ve read many post-apocalyptic books about people returning to agrarian societies as a direct result of some kind of war or other conflict, but I haven’t read too many that explore what would happen if there wasn’t a single disaster that broke modern society down.

How would you keep communities going after the last drop of gasoline has been used up? What parts of our medical  educational, correctional,and municipal systems could adapt to a world that must rely on renewable resources? What parts of them would become luxuries for the wealthy or fade away entirely as resources grew scarce?

I wouldn’t be surprised if most people began working from home in this sort of future. While I think of that as a positive step for society due to the elimination of commutes, the reduction in the spread of communicable diseases, and the increased freedom that comes with having total control over your work environment, only time will tell what negative side effects from that arrangement could be.

Photo credit: Terminator007007007.

Aliens Who Aren’t as Technologically Advanced as Humans

Imagine meeting an alien species that was a few hundred thousand to a few million years behind us.

How would we treat their planet?

How would humans treat them?

If they could talk, would they be better off or worse off than a species that had no idea what was happening to it?

There are hundreds of stories out there about aliens coming to Earth and trying to steal our resources. I wonder why we so often assume they’d be violent, cruel, and greedy. Is that the way we’d treat them? Is it a quietly lingering cultural guilt over how certain groups of people have been terribly mistreated in the past?

Given how difficult it seems to be for life to take hold in the universe in the first place, I wouldn’t be surprised if any alien species we do find out there is closer to the self-awareness of a houseplant or a lizard than to a fellow humanoid.

 

Crop Circles

I remember hearing all kinds of bizarre stories about crop circles when I was a kid.

Some people were convinced that they were messages from alien races. It was never clear to me what kinds of messages they were or if anyone ever thought they’d decoded them.

Other folks set out to prove that many different types of crop circles could be recreated by humans using simple tools. There have been a few other cases where crop circles were shown to be a natural reaction to archeological remains. When this happens, the same design appears in the field every year because of how those ruins have affected the soil.

For a topic as old and well-known as this one, I’m a little surprised by the fact that I don’t remember reading any sci-fi stories about it at all. This sure seems like it would a topic that could be explored from many different angles, from the extraterrestrial to the paranormal to the bizarre but still completely logical.

How about you? What science fiction and fantasy themes do you wish were more commonplace?

10 Pictures That Are Begging to Be Turned Into Stories, Part Two

I come across so many unique images when I’m searching for stock photos for this blog. It always makes me a little sad when I realize that nothing I’ve written so far fits them in any way.

They’re the kind of pictures that demand an audience, so today I’m sharing ten of them with you in the hope that you’ll be inspired by them. If anyone uses one of these photos as a writing prompt, I’d love to know how you interpreted it! Send me a message about it on Twitter.

I will include brief descriptions of the images in this post as well for readers who aren’t able to see the pictures I’ve found.

This is a picture of a man who has tilted his head back and closed his eyes. He has a neutral expression on his face, and he is balancing a pineapple on the top of his forehead.

It makes me giggle every time I see it. I could see it being an eye-catching opener for a post about meditation, healthy eating, or alternative uses for pineapple for those of us who don’t like the taste of them.

 

This is a picture of a man wearing the kind of thick, white makeup that clowns and other performers wear. He has an American flag draped over his left shoulder and he’s slung a stick or weapon across his other shoulder. We cannot see the end of that item, only its handle. His face has a menacing expression on it.

What a frightening image. It would make great fodder for any kind of horror tale, but I’d personally use it for something that revolved around not realizing a person or situation was dangerous until it was too late. Not every scary thing in life announces itself that way immediately.

This is a picture of a skeleton wearing headphones, sitting at a desk, hunched over a computer, and typing on a keyboard. 

There was nothing alarming about this to me at all. The skeleton looks and acts just like a living person, so I’d imagine them in a completely innocuous setting whose conflict has nothing at all to do with the fact that skeletons shouldn’t actually be able to move around.

For example, maybe everyone else sees a normal person when they look at this character. He or she is the only person who knows their true form, and they honestly find it kind of a boring topic.

This is a picture of a woman grimacing and biting the pages of a blank, open book.

Honestly, she looks hungry. Someone give her an apple before she starts devouring her tale from the inside out before its even had a chance to end.

 

This is a picture of a viking who has a long, brown beard and moustache. There is a small mound of brightly-coloured confetti covering his facial hair.

If this isn’t the perfect image to use for a story about an uncanny parade, I don’t know what is. Perhaps Ivar was magically awoken from his eternal rest, and was terribly disappointed to learn that his new role in modern times was as nothing but the main attraction in parades, festivals, and other large community gatherings. He’d give anything for one serious conversation about who he was, where he came from, and how he died.

This is a picture of about a dozen cellphones that are nailed to a wall. The sign on the wall reads “Please destroy cell phones before entering.”

A luddite lives here, and they have zero patience for cellphones of any sort. This could be horror as easily as it could be a romantic comedy. So much depends on how the luddite reacts when he or she meets someone who refuses to give up their phone.

 

This is a picture of the face and shoulders of a woman who is wearing nothing but a towel on her head. The expression on her face could either be read as shock or surprise.

I find this image unsettling. Is the woman thrilled or frightened? What could she have possibly seen that would make her feel both emotions simultaneously?

This is a picture of a laptop, book, computer mouse, and smart phone being wrapped up in chains.

“Security” was one of the keywords labeling this image on the stock photo site I found it on. To me, though, it looks far more like it’s about limiting nearly every kind of information that’s available to the average person. How could someone learn about the world if they were denied the use of books and the Internet?

This is a picture of a pair of wind-up toy teeth biting down on a few 5 pound British bills.

I giggle every time I look at this image. The first thing that popped into my mind was that dental bills can be very expensive. Maybe it’s a reminder to take good care of your teeth?

This is a picture of a man sitting at a table. One of his arms is robotic, and he is holding his flesh-and-blood-hand in his robotic one. 

Is this futuristic or something happening now? From what I’ve read about replacement limbs, they have begun to be able to do all kinds of things they weren’t able to do before. I’ve heard of people being able to clench their fists, hold a glass of water, and do so much more with their artificial arms.

If I were going to make this a scifi story, the entire right side of this guy’s body would be a machine. Maybe he was in an accident and lives just far enough into the future that machines can take over the work of some of his internal organs as well as his right arm and leg?

For a contemporary setting, I’d go with something more ordinary like him forgetting to charge up his limb the night before and needing to sit quietly until it had enough juice in it to keep him going for the rest of the day.

Previous posts in this series:

10 Pictures That Are Begging to be Turned Into Stories

My Biggest Health and Fitness Mistakes So Far

Lately I’ve been thinking about how much has been slowly changing for me from a health and fitness perspective over the last four years. After mulling it over for a while, there are three things I wish I would have done differently when I first decided to start working out regularly again. I Wish I’d… Read More

5 Reasons Why You Should Read Science Fiction and Fantasy

This past weekend I tried to remember the first science fiction or fantasy book I ever read. After a lot of deliberation, I believe that traditional fairy tales were what originally drew me into this genre. Some of my earliest memories about books in general involve borrowing fairy tale collections from my local library. After… Read More

Why You Should Be Following the Mystery of Tom Thomson’s Death

Tom Thomson was a famous Canadian painter who died nearly a century ago. His landscapes influenced the Group of Seven. Had he lived longer, there’s no doubt in my mind that he would have become an official member and they would have been called the Group of Eight instead. If you haven’t heard of this artist or the kinds of… Read More