Mindy Newell: Where is your next idea coming from?
This is a column for all you “I want to be a writer” writers out there.
The XXII Olympics officially opened on Friday, February 8th, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.
Thirty years ago the XIV Olympics took place in Sarajevo in what was Yugoslavia and is now Bosnia-Herzegovina, although the region is usually just called Bosnia. Thirty years later the Olympic village, the ice rink, the bobsled and luge tracks, the ski jump, the other sports facilities and hotels are gone, destroyed during the Bosnian war and the 44-months-long Siege of Sarajevo which killed nearly twelve thousand of the city’s residents.
Thirty years ago this week I watched and was swept away, like everyone else by Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean’s romantically brilliant ice dance set to Ravel’s Boléro. (I just watched it again courtesy of YouTube, and it still captures my heart.) The routine set off a bit of a fire in the ice-dancing world, because, according to Wikipedia:
Torvill and Dean’s 1984 Olympic free dance was skated to Maurice Ravel’s Boléro. Ravel’s original Boléro composition is over 17 minutes long. Olympics rules state that the free dance must be four minutes long (plus or minus ten seconds). Torvill and Dean went to a music arranger to condense Boléro down to a “skateable” version. However, they were told that the minimum time that Boléro could be condensed down to was 4 minutes 28 seconds, 18 seconds in excess of the Olympics rules. Torvill and Dean reviewed the Olympic rulebook and found that it stated that actual timing of a skating routine began when the skaters started skating. Therefore they could use Boléro if they did not place their skates’ blades to ice for the first 18 seconds. They timed the performance so that when Torvill first placed a blade on the ice, they would have the maximum skating time remaining.
Torvill and Dean’s choreography also broke the then rigid rules of ice dancing competition, which of course annoyed their rivals, but also helped pave the way for the more imaginative use of music and choreography in the sport.
Thirty years ago this week I got a call from Karen Berger, who was then my editor on New Talent Showcase, while watching the Sarajevo Olympics and figure skating. She told me that issue she was working on was a few pages short and she needed something to fill them, and “could I come up with something fast?” Maybe it was Scott Hamilton or Brian Orser or Katarina Witt or Rosalyn Sumners or a skater whose name I’ve forgotten who at that moment was performing axels or toe loops or lutzes or flying camels or Biellmann or Charlotte spins, but I looked at my TV screen and said “it’s the future, and robots have taken over all physical activities, including sports, and mankind just sits around vegging out and getting high and is dying out or something, and it’s the 3,000th Olympics and a human secretly competes and ends up winning the gold for figure skating, which will be the spark that will lead to revolution and rebirth for humanity”—or maybe I just said, “something to do with robots or androids and the Olympics?” and she, God bless her, liked it, or maybe—probably—she was simply desperate, and gave me the go-ahead. If I recall correctly, the story was all of two pages long—I don’t have that particular issue anymore*—and it sure as hell wasn’t a Hunger Games or a Divergent, but it did what it needed to do, filling out that issue of New Talent Showcase and helping my editor out of a jam. And giving me another story credit and a couple of more dollars in my bank account.
A lot of times I make fun of the “streaming bytes of useless information inside my head,” and even wonder “how the hell do I know that?”, and a lot of times I think my so-called “smartness” is a sham because I’m not successful financially and I’m only a staff nurse instead of a nurse practitioner or a nurse anesthetist or a doctor or a lawyer or a film editor—my secret “if only I knew then what I know now about myself” dream, btw, although of course now it isn’t a secret anymore—or because I’m trying to write that proposal for the story that’s been in my head for so many years now (and which I talked about here) and it’s so clear in there, but it’s so murky when I try to put it on paper (or the computer screen)…
…but at the same time, this little incident in my life also serves to remind me you never know when something you read or something you saw or something you did or somewhere you traveled will suddenly help out a co-worker or a friend or an editor or even yourself when it’s one of the days when the world is shit and you almost envy Phillip Seymour Hoffman or Corey Monteith because all their troubles and angst are behind them now.
Nothing is wasted.
Keep that in mind.
*It was three pages long, appeared in New Talent Showcase #7, and called “The Human Potential”. –Editor who’s always wanted to write one of these yellow boxes.