1. The sky

When my father passed away, I could never look at the big blue sky again without wonder. Out of habit, this vast space above our heads will always be considered the home of heaven, whether I believe in God or not. Even now, when I embark on a plane ride, I am transfixed by the infinite space of our universe.

Simply look up, and the clear air opens you to new and unexplored territory. It doesn’t have to be a sunny day; weather is irrelevant. Give yourself five minutes to let your mind wander and, within moments, your brain will be humming with potential.

2. Your kitchen

It wasn’t until I prepared for and completed my first fitness competition that I really began to think differently about food and economics. Take a look in your pantry and refrigerator. Where did it come from? What are the ingredients, and where did they come from? Investigating our place in the food chain, and being truly grateful for our access to an abundance of choice, will lead your creative voice on an interesting journey.

3. Backyard or balcony

You don’t have to live in a house to benefit from the inspiration that nature can provide. Just open your backdoor and walk into the fresh air. My point is that you don’t have to invest in a five hundred dollar plane ride en route to Florida to appreciate the beauty of colour, wildlife, plants, and the outdoors. Simply step outside and look at the view, smell the air, admire the flowers, even pool toys scattered across your patio or an unfinished carpentry project. Don’t pretend you’re somewhere else, in a perfect setting. Enjoy the moment, just as it is. Stories are everywhere; beauty has nothing to do with it.

4. Silence

A few years ago, I began to realize that what’s said is just as –or more- important as what remains unspoken. Allow yourself to feel and be quiet. Close your eyes if you must. Instead of reacting to the noise of everyday life, traffic and construction, concentrate on the pockets of silence in between. Fill in the gaps with your imagination.

5. Darkness

I know, this doesn’t sound very enticing, does it? Have you ever sat in the dark? You’re totally itching to turn on a lamp, light a candle, turn on the television, turn on your smart phone, open the refrigerator, anything to pierce the blackness. On the other hand, if you can hold out for at least ten minutes, eventually your eyes will adjust to the shadows, the air feels a little cool, your breath will become slow and deep and you won’t feel the need to fidget or reach for a form of entertainment.

If fear is what’s bothering you, then embrace it. It’ll likely subside after a few minutes of facing the darkness. When the fear turns to calm, that’s when it gets interesting: your powers of observation and attention slowly come alive.

6. The newspaper

There are a multitude of free newspapers available, and you can always find old issues in the recycling bin. I am constantly surprised by the quirky and interesting articles I come across. Most recently, I read the obituary of Jonah Kelly, an Inuit CBC broadcaster. If you’re looking for motivation or inspiration, read his biography and take a look at his adorable smile. His story of determination should be enough to shock you out of your feelings of complacency.

 7. The eyes of animals

Do you have a dog? Well, if you do, go find him/her and have a cuddle. Is she curled up under the kitchen table? That’s okay. Mosey on under there with her and watch her eyes as they investigate your curious behavior. She’s probably thinking: “What is my owner doing under here? Has she lost her mind?” Well, the short answer is no.

Legitimately try to guess what they’re thinking, try to understand their choices. Is your pooch tired, worried, hungry, or overwhelmed by the summer heat? Tune into their idiosyncrasies by paying attention to their eyes and expression. You may be surprised to see a look of pain or discomfort on their face. Do you know why? Imagine the world, all the details, from their perspective. Jot a few ideas in your journal or notebook.

8. Old photo albums

Now, I don’t mean old as in last year. I’m talkin’ ten years old, maybe even twenty. If you can get your hands on a stack of family pictures from the sixties or seventies, the potential for wonder increases exponentially. Not only is the fashion a shocking revelation, but so will be the youth of your parents and other relatives. If you’re feeling artistically blocked, collect a handful of pictures; dissect the fashion, the hairstyles, the landscape, and the cars. Ask questions! Don’t be afraid to call up your Aunt Bertha and ask why she wore a black and yellow polyester suit to your mother’s wedding. The answers will captivate you… and provide more than enough fodder for your next novel/painting/story/poem.

9. Old journals

Have you ever read an old journal entry from elementary school? Oh, it’s scary. The spelling, the grammar, the innocence… I don’t know where to begin. Embarrassment aside, it’s fun to tap into that lost world of childhood when all that mattered was the sandbox, chocolate and monopoly. You may feel overwhelmed by memories but that just mean it’s working.

10. Graffiti

It’s free to go for a walk, right? All you have to do is slip on a pair of flip-flops or running shoes. How hard can that be? I guarantee, you won’t have to walk for more than a block before you spot a patch of graffiti. Whether it’s on a mailbox or a bridge underpass, investigate. What does it say? What’s the image meant to convey? Is it in another language? Take a picture, brainstorm, and let your ideas sizzle and percolate.

11. A mirror

This is not meant to be narcissistic; my intention is to encourage self-reflection. Some people hate looking in the mirror. Perhaps it makes them feel uncomfortable or vain. But, my hope is that you’ll feel empowered by this exercise, not traumatized. Just look in the mirror and write down what comes to mind, whether it’s positive or negative. Refrain from categorizing your thoughts and just go with the flow. Follow that flow to your next story idea.