I have a new idea for a story, and it’s deeply steeped in art. This week, I’ve been diving into research. Way back when (25 years ago), I graduated from Trinity College, Hartford, with a double major in creative writing and art history. Over my career, I’ve obviously put the creative writing part to good use, but I haven’t exercised my art history muscles in a while.
So I slid my college textbooks off the shelf and started flipping through the pages. These tomes are like bricks—about a thousand pages each, dense with words and images. My plan is to absorb this history before moving forward with my story.
Today, while reading through Gardner’s Art Through the Ages, I discovered a treasure from the past. This pleasant surprise—a flashcard I had made for an exam—was tucked between pages 720 and 721. On the back, I had scrawled a note to myself: “Gets caught back in time and keeps going back.”
At first, I was confused—what could this note possibly refer to? Then I noticed the image on page 720. The church of St. Ivo, designed by Francesco Borromini, 1642, in Rome, Italy.
Let’s go back in time, about a quarter-century ago:
I fell in love with St. Ivo when I spent a semester abroad to study art history my junior year. Senior year, I took a playwriting course and decided to write about an architect who was inspired by this same church. In my play, the architect hits a creative wall and can’t move forward on his current project until he resolves some past issues—he literally lives the same day over and over again. (Important note: I worked on this play the months before the famous Bill Murray movie Groundhog Day was released, and I knew this forever meant no one would believe I had the idea first!) My play Wall went on to win a contest and was performed in a workshop by the Company One Theater at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford. This small accolade gave me confidence to decide that writing could be my life’s pursuit.
This scrawled note to myself, hiding all these years in my art history textbook, was the genesis of the idea for that play. Not only did finding this note bring up fond memories of my senior year of college, but it made me realize I hadn’t changed much—I still start my creative process the same way. Often when I’m reading, doing dishes, taking a walk, working in the yard, I jot down an idea on whatever is handy. Sometimes I keep these slips of paper, sometimes I lose them, some turn into stories, some don’t. Some get tucked into books.
“Gets caught back in time and keeps going back.”
That’s what I’m going to do as I research…go back in time to when art history was fresh in my mind and keep going back to relive those days over and over. Once I’ve resolved all that background work, I’ll move forward and craft all those ideas into a story.