Nuthatches on Arrakis, or Thoughts on Inspiration

I filled the bird feeder with black oil sunflower seeds the other day, then went inside to watch the show from our living room picture window.

The usual mixed flock of cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches and sparrows pounced in short order. The feeder is placed between two trees, and the birds flit from tree to feeder to roof to tree to feeder. Now and then, a woodpecker joins in or a bluebird perches on the feeder. A squawking blue jay zooms in from time to time, and usually the other birds scatter.

As I watched this drama play out on a snowy Ohio day, my muse began working. How dependent on this feeder are these birds? What would happen if the feeder were no longer filled, or if the jay took over and dominated? Would the other birds join forces against the jay? Could the blue jay defeat the woodpecker in single combat?

My mind turned birds into people and tribes, and I began thinking of the feeder as something else, some vital resource the tribes could fight over and scheme over. Oil? Healing waters? Sacred ground?

Of course, a moment later it hit me. Arrakis. Dune. Desert planet.

I smacked myself on the forehead and realized I was mining ground Frank Herbert explored a bazillion years ago. Maybe there really are no new plots. I might still do something along these lines, in a sword & sorcery vein. It would be different enough by the time my own style and sensibilities are applied. But, still … Arrakis. Dune. Desert planet.

But the essential thing to take from this is that inspiration is everywhere. One of the key ingredients that goes into a prolific writer is the ability to see stories or poems or themes in almost everything you encounter. People talk about having trouble coming up with ideas. Honestly, I have trouble keeping up with ideas.

Good luck in finding your inspirations.

— Steve


6 thoughts on “Nuthatches on Arrakis, or Thoughts on Inspiration

  1. This is weird. I had the same experience back in the late 1990s. For me it was the three hummingbird feeders Dad put up outside the porch at the farm, and the domineering male that tried to control and claim all three. I watched him chase the other hummingbirds away during the week we were back in Ohio for vacation. Once I made the Dune/spice connection my mind went in a different direction. I started a story back then but abandoned it when I got frustrated with rejections. I pulled it out a few weeks ago when I realized that I had vacation time to use up. I plan on finishing it this month. Weird.


  2. I think you’re spot on about inspiration being everywhere. As for “no new plots” — a few years ago, someone asked me where I got my ideas, and I told them that they’re all based on relationships … all people have that in common, love, hate, fear, guilt, frustration, courage, etc.

    Whether I call my people “Romeo” and “Juliet” or “Rai” and “Chi”, they still have the same human tendencies … so, no, no new plots. Just as many variations on a theme as there are people in the world — six billion ideas. Whew. I’ll never mine them all.

    I think that the Dune universe is an exploration of what makes us human and, whatever stripe of “humanity” we are, part of the human condition is to crave control … the eco-theme of Dune, whether you’re talking about water or spice, was simple one of the engines that Herbert used to explore the bigger themes. I think.


  3. Hmm. Deven and I apparently were writing at the same time and he pressed the “send” button first.

    Just a P.S. — I think it’s pretty vague, in a conversation between Steve and Deven, to trot out the word “weird.” That about covers everything, doesn’t it?


  4. Deven: That is VERY weird. Discombobulating, even. I’m tempted to wonder if you ever told me your bird feeder story, and maybe that was somewhere down in the basement of my brain before my own bird watching dredged it up. But I don’t recall you ever telling me that or blogging about it.

    — Steve


  5. I don’t remember talking about it. However, it was during the same period of time when we were doing the email round-robin “Busted Gut” shared story.


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