A Story Idea Each Day for a Month — Day 13

April 13th, 2012 by

This is the third year in a row I’ve run this series in April. Last week I provided a daily explanation about why you should make it a habit to be generating story ideas. This week, I’ll give you some tips on how to come up with stories.

Tip #5: Obituaries.

When it comes down to it, people live extraordinary lives. And obituaries summarize those lives in nice, neat packages. This is an obituary one I love and if I had 12 more hours a day in my life, I might pursue this as a spec script.

So if you’re stuck for story ideas? Just hit the obituaries in your local fish-wrap.

Today’s story: The Toys Are Gone, but It’s Still Home:

DAN GEIST, 44, grew up in a one-bedroom apartment in Morningside Heights, the only child of artist parents who had arrived as renters in the late ’60s. He pedaled his tricycle around the living room and swung from a tension bar in a doorway. From babyhood on he gazed from his bedroom window at a tapestry of brick, a view that looked especially moody on rainy mornings.

When Mr. Geist went off to college in 1984, he assumed that he would return to the apartment only for school vacations and the occasional family dinner. But nine years later, long a graduate and overwhelmed by the challenge of finding affordable housing in Manhattan, he came home for good. The building had gone co-op, and his parents, who still owned the apartment and were happy to bequeath it to their son, had separated and moved out.

He returned largely because apartment-hunting proved so traumatic. “It was nightmarish,” said Mr. Geist, who is the senior editor of Tehran Bureau, a news Web site. “Like so many people who grow up in Manhattan, I couldn’t imagine living anywhere else. But I was appalled at the idea of having a roommate who wasn’t a close friend, which is what I would have to have had to stay in the borough. It didn’t take long to convert me to the idea that moving back home was a splendid notion.”

Mr. Geist belongs to a small and exclusive club of New Yorkers, largely Manhattanites, who live literally on the footprint of their childhood. They sleep in their childhood bedrooms. They are greeted in the elevator by people who have known them since they were born. Family snapshots have a comforting familiarity. Some of these people have had the same telephone number and permanent address their entire lives. If they left town for college or a job, it wasn’t for long.

The apartment in question is typically a co-op or rent-controlled, and the child inherits the space after the parents have died or moved away. Returning to such a setting generally has an emotional component as well as a practical one, according to architects and social scientists who have studied the psychological impact of the childhood home.

Such a home can represent a source of warmth and strength. “That explains why some people are so devastated about selling the childhood home,” said Clare Cooper Marcus, a former professor of architecture and landscape architecture at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of the book “House as a Mirror of Self: Exploring the Deeper Meaning of Home.” “They knew it was there and that they could go back and revisit the place.”

Remember where you grew up? The front porch. The back yard. Your bedroom. Kitchen. That special place you used to curl up on the floor where the afternoon sun would warm you as you daydreamed after school?

What if your parents sold the place. Without telling you. Gone. To some other family. Wouldn’t that feel like a desecration?

What if at the same time, you lost your job. Your wife. Your kids. Everything gone. Wouldn’t you want to retreat to the safety of your Old Home. Only now some total strangers were living there?

Comedy? Sure. Thriller. Oh, yeah. Horror. Absolutely.

What would you do with this concept?

Tomorrow: Another story idea.

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