Monday, October 18, 2010

Bus Stop to Nowhere

There is a bus stop to nowhere. It sits outside a nursing home somewhere, and from time to time someone from inside wanders out to it. But no bus ever shows up, and no one ever goes anywhere (other than back into the home). In all other respects, it looks like a regular bus stop, and no doubt the people who wander out to it expect to go somewhere. They may not have any particular destination in mind, and even if they do it doesn't seem to bother them that the bus itself never shows.

As much as this might sound like the concept for a short story (or the initial set-up for some sort of bizarre anthology series, much the way Rod Serling would intro the Twilight Zone) it is completely non-fiction. The bus stop was the rather ingenious solution one nursing home came up with to keep their residents from wandering off. Before they put up their faux bus stop at the end of their sidewalk, when those residents afflicted with wanderlust would manage to slip out the doors, they would walk down the street to the actual bus stop, where they would congregate until someone from the home showed up to collect them. One or two of them might have even wound up on the bus.

Someone noticed that this was where the residents were winding up, and got the idea to put up the fake bus stop out in front of the nursing home. It seemed a much more simple and humane solution (and cost-efficient) than putting ankle bracelets on all the residents likely to wander. Surprisingly enough, it seems to work. They no longer have residents wandering down the street to a functional bust stop. They all congregate out front, where the staff can easily collect them. It seems to be enough for the residents that they manage to get that far.

It's a simple, elegant solution, and the reason why it works has to do with a number of psychological things that are not within my purview. What struck me about it, though, was that it was the sort of idea that we, as writers, are supposed to have. We're supposed to be good at looking at something - doesn't have to be a problem - and positing an unusual "what if" approach. Sometimes the answers will work, sometimes they won't. But it's the process of sitting around and playing with each idea, at least for a little bit, and giving it a chance to work that is just as important.

Somone could have, and probably did, laughed at the idea of a non-functioning bus stop as a preventative measure. And perhaps if there had been more funds for alarms and other traditional security measures, it would never have been built. But someone had the ability to look at the scenario and give it just the right sort of spin in their head to come up with an unusual, and ultimately effective, solution. And then they put it into practice, to see what would come of it. The most they would have been out was the funds and time for a bench and a sign.

The most we are out, as writers, when our ideas fall flat is the words on the page and the time it took to put them down. Like most writers, I have written my fair share of things that ultimately turned out not to work. But I've also had more that did, more times when I sat down and thought "what if" and approached something in a new (or new to me) way that might have seemed a bit unconventional at first. This is how, even though we are all told there are only five basic stories - at least I think it's supposed to be five - we are also told we can put our own spin on those five plots and make them work.

Yet I don't ever regard those words that didn't work as a waste (possibly an idea for another entry) even when they don't go anywhere. That, of course, is perhaps the irony of this comparison.

Unlike the bus stop to nowhere, when our ideas work they take us places.

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