I think all of us have had the same feeling at one time or another; that instant in which we say “How the heck did I end up here?”
I feel like I may have had more of those moments than most, but that may be only my perception. Or maybe it’s due to my penchant for saying in response to almost any odd invitation, “Oh what the heck–why not give it a try?”So here are a few of the stranger situations and locations I have found myself in during the course of my life.
- Interviewing with Two CIA Agents in a Hotel Room – I know. It doesn’t even sound plausible to me. (At the time, the CIA contacted everyone who graduated with a degree in area studies, like Soviet Studies, Asian Studies, etc.) Anyhow, I was in a regular hotel room with two men–one with a distinct French accent–who were talking to me about working for “The Agency.” Every time I responded, “You mean the CIA?,” they’d glance quickly around the room to be sure nobody had noticed, and then whisper, “Yeah.” Somehow this whole scenario did not inspire confidence in me and I declined to apply for the job.
- Changing a Tire on a Land Rover in the Midst of a Herd of Cape Buffalo – You mean this doesn’t happen to everyone? Our guide was supposed to be changing the tire, but I am the fastest tire changer I know, due to the fact that I used to trade tires every year to pass my safety inspection while I was in college. (Hey, I hardly ever drove and I couldn’t afford new tires, and they weren’t quite bald yet.) When we got back to camp, the guide kept pointing to me and telling people, “Dis is a valuable woman!” While it’s hard to become a famous author, it’s clearly not so difficult to become a famous tire-changer in Kenya.
- Crawling Around a Boiler on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation – I and the engineer I was with were measuring to install an economizer (whatever that is). Before entering the building, we had to watch a film about what to do in the event of a nuclear meltdown and then don radiation badges before we went into the building, all of which was not particularly reassuring. While crawling on the metal walkways around this giant boiler in steam-bath heat, alarm bells periodically went off, followed by jets of superheated steam from pressure relief valves situated in unexpected places. I was pretty sure I’d be flash-cooked by the boiler if not by a nuclear disaster. I’ve got to use this setting sometime in a novel or screenplay. Ding! Phsssssst!
- Standing on a Chair in a Room Full of Snakes – What, this has never happened to you either? I was only a teenager at the time, in an Explorer Scout program at the zoo. We were going to learn how to catch snakes. I was expecting a video or perhaps a demonstration by one man with one snake. Instead, a guy walked into the room with a writhing sack and dumped a bunch of snakes onto the floor. The snakes were not happy. And they were surprisingly fast. I am not normally a stand-on-the-chair-and-shriek kind of girl, but I guess that behavior is instinctive in all of us.
I could go on and on. For better or worse, so far I’ve had a life that makes great fodder for a writer. And actually, most people have. Everyday dramas, twisted in the hands of talented writers (or maybe that’s in the hands of twisted writers) can make for great stories. One of my writing exercises is to encourage creative writers to think of the worst thing that has ever happened to you and then imagine the best circumstances that could come from that. Or think of the best thing that ever happened to you and imagine how it could turn into a disaster. Or, as in this case, think about all the weird circumstances you’ve been in and use them in your writing. Please share some of your own weird places and experiences!