Recently, the latest issue of Bayou arrived in the mail with my essay “Holiday” in it.
I’ve long considered the George Cukor movie Holiday among my favorites. It stars Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn, with supporting turns by such great actors as Lew Ayres and Edward Everett Horton. The essay details why the movie captured my attention when I was younger and the way the meaning of the movie has changed for me over time.
Often writing inspiration is mysterious. Writers see people, objects, places, and want to write stories about them. Sometimes writers don’t even know where ideas come from (for example, my story "The Dentist’s Parrot"). But sometimes inspiration is more mundane. In the case of “Holiday,” I was assigning essays to my students and one prompt suggested writing about a favorite movie. My students don’t seem to be as into movies as I was at their age—they spend more time on the internet and playing video games and less time watching TV than I did. When I offered this movie prompt to them, I got blank stares. However, I thought of Holiday, and how I had discovered it on a local TV station that showed it over and over during one summer vacation week. I wanted to write using that prompt, even if my students didn’t.
While writing a couple of months ago, for some reason I got the idea that one character should send a vintage post card of San Francisco to another character. I included a brief description and moved on. I'm not sure where the vintage post card idea came from. I had bought a folio of vintage post cards as a Christmas gift for one of the writers in my writer's group. Or perhaps I'd seen reproduction post cards in a recent trip to San Francisco. Wherever the vintage post card idea came from, it took root.
A few chapters later, I decided I wanted another vintage post card. So I started googling images of post cards to choose one as inspiration.
When I clicked on one image that interested me especially, I discovered that it came from a folio of vintage post cards from the 40's for sale on EBay. So I decided to bid on it.
First I had to read about EBay auctions, because I'd never bought anything from EBay before. The auction was closing in a few hours, so I wouldn't have to wait forever to find out if I'd won. I put in a bid (I was the first bidder) and waited for the hours to pass, checking back every once in a while to see if I'd been successful. At 10:20 that night, I checked in. I'd won! Mine was the only bid. The cards would be shipped to me soon.
Meanwhile, I had to keep writing, so I described the post card I'd seen online, and imagined it as a physical object--the feel of the paper, the real colors of the ink.
A few days ago, my postcard purchase arrived.
They were gorgeous! And, oddly, they felt just like I'd imagined they would.
The cards fold inside a covering that closes with a flap. These post cards had been mailed, though there was no message and no signature, just a recipient address
The postage was two cents (!), and the address contained no zip code, just the two-digit number that was the zipcode's precursor. I wondered why the sender did not sign the post card--perhaps the sender thought the recipient would know who the cards were from.
Closer examination revealed that this card folio was postmarked in 1944. The date made me wonder. Was this folio of cards sent from someone who was about to be shipped overseas for WWII, or perhaps someone on leave from the military and visiting a city all the way across the country from his home in New York? Obviously I could tell a lot of stories about these cards. But for now, I'll just use them for inspiration on my current project.
Ann Hillesland writes fiction and essays. Her work has appeared in many literary journals, including Fourth Genre, Bayou, The Laurel Review, and Sou’wester.
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