Ideas: Where to Get Them and What to Do When They Won't Leave by David S. Atkinson

People are always asking me where I get my ideas.  I’ve never really understood that.  I mean, I run into them all over the place: supermarkets, taxis, parties, begging for spare change on street corners, orgies, drunk tanks, you know…all sorts of every day places.  Frankly, the biggest problem is getting rid of the worthless ones.

For example, take the one I ran into back in March.  I was at the biannual convention in Tucson for people who like to use the word ‘nipple’ inappropriately.  Advance reports suggested this one wasn’t going to amount to much new, but I figured I’d go anyway just to get some of the obligatory networking out of the way.  Put in a little face time in the industry and what not, just to keep my name fresh in everyone’s mind.

About the time I’d had as much pointless handshaking and business card exchanging as I could stomach, I headed to the refreshment table for a well-deserved break and some free stale pretzels.  There was already an idea hanging out when I got there, opening and chugging one can of Diet Coke after another.

“Hey,” he gasped between cartridges.  “How’s it going, guy?”

“Good,” I replied perfunctorily while trying to pretend to be deeply engaged in the debate between a bear claw and a cruller.  “Not doing too bad at least.”

I was not, needless to say though I will say it anyway, anxious to get into it with this idea.  He was dressed up in faded brown corduroy and the Battle of Hastings.  The soles of his shoes were peeling off and the Magna Carta hung out of one of his torn pockets.  Clearly, he was a bad idea if I’d ever seen one.  Maybe even Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle bad.

“Working with anybody right now?”  He wiped mustard from his fingers on the checkered paper tablecloth, though none of the snacks on the table included any mustard.  “You look like a classy sort.  Maybe we should hook up sometime.”

“Sure,” I replied, stuffing pretzels into my mouth to make it clear I wasn’t really seriously considering such.  “Maybe someday.”

“Really, we should,” the idea belched.  “I bet you’d be right up my alley.  Into weenie dogs?”

“Isn’t everyone?”

I pretended to catch sight of someone across the room right then.  “Ben!  Hey, Ben,” I shouted to no one.  “Where’ve you been hiding, you old dog?  Sorry, got to run,” I hastily told the idea before charging purposefully but aimlessly across the room.  Then I ducked into the can and cleared out of that snooze fest as soon as the coast was clear.

What was I supposed to do?  I’d never work with that idea.  He’d ruin me.  Still, I didn’t want to come out and actually say that.  No need to be rude, right?  We weren’t making a deal.  I was just being polite.

Or, that’s what I thought until the idea pounded on my door.

He charged right on into my condo, carrying a see-through whicker suitcase of old Scholastic magazines and my grandmother’s antique silverware, when I opened the door.  Half asleep from an afternoon nap as I was, he was already kicking back on my beige living room couch and watching reruns of The Beverly Hillbillies before I realized what was happening.

“Hey…what are you doing?”

“Settling in!”  The idea scratched his crotch (inside whatever underwear the idea might have been wearing) with my remote control.  “We got work to do and these things don’t happen overnight.  Got myself ready to just crash here so we could work round the clock.”

I stood there, staring at the revolting little guy.  I had to do something; I had to get rid of him quick.

“Well…I’m actually in the middle of a project right now,” I stammered, desperately trying to think of a way to get him out my door.  “It could be quite a while before I’m ready to sit down to something else.”

“No problem, boss,” he retorted, blowing his nose on my Herman Melville commemorative lace coffee coasters.  “I got nothing but time.  We’ll just be roomies until you get around to it.”

Then he switched the channel to a three day Toddlers & Tiaras marathon.  Clearly, he was settling in pretty deep.  I retreated upstairs just to get away from his smell of old fish and Emily Brontë.

I mean, how else should I have handled the situation?  The idea was obviously unstable.  His choices in television revealed that if nothing else.  There was a chance he’d get violent if I tried to throw him out myself.

The police certainly wouldn’t be any help.  They tended to stay out of idea-related conflicts.  ‘Purely a domestic matter’ they’d say.  Too many people inviting idea in and then thought better of it later for law enforcement to get involved.  No, ideas were outside police marching orders as far as they were concerned.

So…I was stuck.  I couldn’t just make him leave and I sure couldn’t actually work with him.  My only option was to wait him out and hope he got bored.

By the second week, though, it was clear that waiting wasn’t going to work too well.  I’m not sure the idea had even noticed.  He just watched TV atrocities, drank all of my Bisquick pancake mix, and made macramé sculptures out of my used mint dental floss.  He even alphabetized the words in my first edition copy of the complete works of James Joyce.  I guessed that this idea really did have nothing better to do.

My work was starting to seriously suffer.  After all, I couldn’t bring a decent idea home with that hobo parked on my couch.  What would it look like?  All the good ideas would be out of there faster than Mark Twain at a James Fenimore Cooper convention.  Whatever kinky plan they’d think I was roping them into, they would want no part of it.

Finally, when I’d had all I could stand, I went and got my tools.  Now, I don’t mean my normal ones.  I drug out that real bastard of a set from where it rusted on the shelf in my garage.  One way or another, this idea was getting taken out.

He sat up when I stomped in and pulled the plug on Dancing with the Stars.  I positioned a chair on the other side of the glass coffee table from him and grinned.  His head bobbed as he swallowed sharply.

“What you got there, boss?  Thinking of doing a little renovating before we get down to business?”

“Nah,” I laughed hollowly, slapping my knee with a jerky motion.  “I thought it was time that we embark upon our mutual little enterprise here.  No time like the present, right?”

I took out my foot-long gutter out of the dented iron box and dropped it on the table.  The nicks in the hard metal blade glistened as it fell.

“Only, I’m considering a different direction than daschunds.  Something along the epic line.  Maybe three thousand pages of consciousness stream unformed dream logic babble with a hint of poetic inversion.  Real high-level groundbreaking academic fiction kind of stuff.  We’ll need serious gear to take that on.”

The idea stared as I tossed the bone saw next to the gutter.  The rib retraction ripper came next, followed by the skin hooks.  He even gasped a little when I brought out the reciprocating centrifuge cartilage/fluid separator.

“Yeah,” I went on, pretending to check the high-pressure formaldehyde pump for coagulants, “no fun and games on this one.  Pain and sweat kind of writing for years on end by candlelight, right?  That’s the only thing for guys of our caliber.  None of that readable excrement.  No fluff.”

It was the testicle corer that really got him, though, what with all the gears and serrations.  I held that up in front of the idea and he was already halfway out the condo.

“To tell the truth, boss, he called over his shoulder as he ran, “I’ve got a few short pieces I need to ride sidecar on before I can commit to something long term like this.  I’m your man once I get all that wrapped up.  I’ll call you!”

Before I knew it, I was free.  The medieval assortment went back to its place in the garage and I finally got back to work.  All in all, it was just another day.

Extreme though it may seem, this is what you have to sometimes resort to in order to get an unwanted idea out of your house.  Just start putting it through the paces like it could really amount to something.  The bad ones will check out by noon instead of enduring that kind of thing.  Trust me, I know.

David S. Atkinson received his MFA in writing from the University of Nebraska. His writing appears or is forthcoming in “Grey Sparrow Journal,” “Interrobang?! Magaine,” “Split Quarterly,” “Cannoli Pie,” “C4: The Chamber Four Lit Mag,” “The Lincoln Underground,” “Brave Blue Mice,” “Atticus Review,” “The Zodiac Review,” and others. His book reviews appear in “Gently Read Literature,” “The Rumpus,” and “[PANK].” His writing website is and he spends his non-literary time working as a patent attorney in Denver.