When talking with a friend recently, I mentioned that coming up with fresh ideas for this column was sometimes a struggle. When the muse is on vacay, I use a wacky toolkit to help me get through it. These tools might not work for any other writer, but for me, they never fail.
The last time this happened I rifled through a box of souvenirs. I also read a book of quotes and flipped back through old pictures. Nada. Twisting the key on a tiny music box on my desk, I sat and gazed out my office window while listening to those tinkling tones. That music always transports me to another place.
The first few tools didn't help me this time, but something off to the left caught my attention. It was a pair of old welding goggles. These babies make anyone wearing them look like a bug-eyed alien. An idea was born.
My dad wore a hood when he did arc welding, but when he used an acetylene torch, he wore these goggles. For decades, they've dangled on a hook in my home office. When I picked them up and slip the elastic straps over my ears, the world became a darker place. The only things visible were surfaces that reflected the ambient light in the room. It was like one of those horror movies.
The goggles gave a different perspective on the familiar things around me. I tried wearing them while typing, but that was a fruitless exercise.
The company where my dad worked issued these goggles to him when he started working there in the late 1950s. He used them daily, and they were well worn. But he took care of his stuff. When he retired in the early ‘80s, his supervisor gave him his work gloves and these goggles. He had an old Army issue locker at the foot of his bed, and that’s where he kept the things that meant something to him. When he died in 1986, my mom gave the goggles to me.
Closing my eyes, I held the elastic bands close to my nose. I wanted to see if the years had left a trace of my dad behind. Either time had taken his scent away, or taken my ability to smell it.
My dad was not a yapper. When he said something, it usually carried weight. I didn't always listen, but I should have. Being self-absorbed during my 30s didn’t help. At the time, I was sometimes deaf to the advice that could have made my life an easier journey.
Losing a father never crossed my mind. I thought he’d live forever. Wisdom for me in those years was as rare as pocket money. I had no idea cancer would take him so soon.
Removing the goggles from my eyes, I hung them back on the bookshelf hook. A wave of sadness swept over me as I turned back to the keyboard. That’s the thing about my writing toolkit.
It’s impossible to know whether the tools will produce a happy topic or a sad one. The only implicit guarantee is an idea.
Rick Watson is a columnist and author. His latest book, “Life Goes On,” is available on Amazon.com. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.