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Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

July 5, 2011

The one question I’m most often asked by faithful readers of Japecake—apart from whether the warm, wise, gently humorous observations on the joys of fatherhood and family for which I’m best known are actually as delightful to experience as they are to read about (Answer: Not even close)—is, of course, Where do you get your ideas? Some people keep a death grip on their ideas, like they’re guarding a precious secret, or arm-wrestling the Grim Reaper. But not me. I’m all about sharing, like when I discover I’ve “forgotten” my wallet yet again, after we decided on wine and dessert. Ideas are meant to be shared, like good times (among friends), or needles (among seamstresses). Need some ideas on where to get some ideas of your own? Here, have some of mine. All I ask is, no backwash, please.

Local recycling center. Perfectly good ideas get tossed out every day, but there’s no reason to ditch an idea that just happens to be a little past its sell-by date. Why not do the “green” thing and rescue an idea or two from the incinerator while you’re there anyway, discarding incriminating evidence, or your custom-bound back issues of O: The Oprah Magazine? Ideas with a suspicious odor aren’t necessarily spoiled; many ideas stink right from the start. The real trick in scavenging ideas from the dump is being able to discern between a cast-off idea that just needs a little cleaning up, and the leavings of someone’s surf-and-turf special.

Fabric store. Expect to pay about $12.99–$14.99 a yard for really good ideas, $7.99–$9.99 for serviceable ideas, $3.99–$5.99 for passable ideas, and $1.99 for remnants of ideas and bolt ends of orange velvet that someone optimistically thought would be perfect for making Halloween costumes, even though they quickly abandoned those plans and just bought the kind that comes in a box with a plastic mask of Casper held on by a stapled-on rubber band that gets tangled in your hair.

Craigslist. While Craigslist can be an excellent source of ideas in your area, it’s always prudent to meet in a public place before any exchange of ideas takes place. While the “free” ideas offered on Craigslist may seem like a good idea, remember that you get what you pay for. Of course, you normally also have to pick up and move free ideas yourself, so don’t be getting any big ideas if you drive a Volkswagen. Elusive ideas can sometimes be tracked down through the “Missed Connections” category, e.g., “You waited on me at the Route 13 Dunkin’ Donuts last Thursday a.m. We made eye contact as you handed me my order. I couldn’t tell if you were an idea or just a notion, but I’m definitely interested in finding out. If you see this, tell me how I asked for my Coolatta, and what your tattoo says.”

Get crafty. Whether it’s glitter and popsicle sticks, or egg cartons and old pantyhose, you probably have the makings of plenty of ideas right under your nose. Like Sandy Markham of Elyria, Ohio, who made an idea caddy, designed to be worn on the upper lip, out of yarn and spent bullet casings. Or Greg LaRue of Burlington, Vermont, whose idea for a homemade atomic clock required only a microgram of plutonium and some elbow macaroni. Or Irene Garver, of Bodega Bay, California, who put an idea to work for her by devising a way to power her vacuum cleaner with just a plug and a wall socket. Or Jay Jaffee, of McKeesport, Pennsylvania, who came up with an idea to save his failing Rubik’s Cube repair business from crushing debt with a can of gasoline and a book of matches.

Grow your own. Nothing’s more satisfying or refreshing during the dog says of summer than a plump, juicy idea you’ve grown yourself. Scraps of ideas, mixed with eggshells and vegetable peelings, make excellent compost, while bad ideas tilled directly into the soil are as effective a fertilizer as manure. Alternating rows of ideas with rows of marigolds in your garden is said to fend off a variety of pests, including marigold haters.

eBay. Where else could you find a gently used George Foreman Grill, the Evel Knievel Stunt Cycle you had when you were a kid, and deep-discounted ideas, all in the same convenient place? A quick survey of the Collectibles→Ideas→Hell of An category reveals a treasure trove of ideas of every description, from the well-worn (a TV show about a renegade cop who dispenses his own brand of justice) to the brand-spanking-new (a TV show about a renegade Avon Lady who dispenses her own brand of mascara-borne justice). Most eBay sellers are happy to combine shipping on purchases of more than one idea, but make sure that the seller guarantees a full refund if an idea isn’t substantially as described, e.g., what is claimed to be a “good” idea turns out to be a Schindler’s List-themed birthday party for your six-year-old.

Steal them. A firearm, a little nerve, and a cloth sack with “IDEAS” stenciled on the side are all you need to embark on a potentially lucrative, if unoriginal, career of idea larceny. Preprinted stick-up notes—you simply check off the kinds of ideas you want and hand it to the teller—can help streamline a caper at an idea bank, a must when you bag a cool million ideas at lunch but still need to do the shopping before you pick the kids up from school. Idea thieves of greater means and ambition, the sort who defeat the pressure-sensitive floor alarm at the idea museum by rappeling down from the skylight after closing hours, sometimes delay detection by replacing a priceless idea with an exact replica made of glass or papier-mâché. Though scorned by the most successful idea thieves, many small-timers have eked out a meager living by approaching bar patrons who loudly and carelessly flaunt an idea, tapping him or her on the opposite shoulder, and quickly making off with the idea as the mark turns to explain yet again why the country is going to shit.

Go foraging. Some connoisseurs have enthusiastically embraced the use of specially trained pigs to root out prized ideas scattered about the floors of old-growth forests. A muzzle is, of course, de rigeur, so that the pig does not consume the valuable ideas, or recite Monty Python sketches ad nauseum as you’re trying to enjoy the scenery. Wild-idea-gathering Jews have resourcefully circumvented the problematic swine issue by hiring smell-sensitive “idea goys,” who, similar to their porcine counterparts, are normally leashed and muzzled to shut them up, usually about how awesome bacon and Christmas are.

Any ideas on ideas? Share them below, where they become mine.

20 Comments leave one →
  1. July 5, 2011 3:40 am

    I get my ideas from a little leprechaun who comes into my room at night and tells me to burn things.

  2. July 5, 2011 6:08 am

    Before you even get an idea for a cartoon, you have to have some idea of how to be funny and some idea of whether the readers will think it is funny or some idea if they are astute enough to even get the joke. To make a cartoon work you have to have an idea of your demographic. For example, coal miners from West Virgina won’t understand a cow cartoon that would send Texans rolling on the floor . Obviously people in West Virginia have no idea of how funny cow jokes can be. You have to have some idea of what the idea of humor is of your readership. Religion ideas are touchy too. For example , a Hindu would have no idea how funny a cartoon of the Lord feeding the crowd with pizza and frogs instead of loaves of bread and fish would be and some folks would have the idea that such a suggestion is blasphemous(I have no idea what that means except people are allowed to throw rocks at you if you have it). Few people have any idea of how creative you must be to have ideas for cartoons. Mostly. I just sit and think and have no idea at all from where the cartoon idea came. I hope you have some idea of what I am talking about.

    • July 5, 2011 12:01 pm

      For example, coal miners from West Virgina won’t understand a cow cartoon that would send Texans rolling on the floor.

      Cow walks into a bar in Texas, asks for a double milk.
      Bartender eyes him suspiciously, says, “We don’t serve your kind in here! Git out!”
      Cow says, “What are you talking about? I’m just a cow!”
      Bartender says, “You are? I thought you were a West Virginian! Here, pardner, this one’s on the house!”

  3. July 5, 2011 8:21 am

    I get most of my ideas flat pack delivered from IDEA in Sweden. Unfortunately I can rarely follow the assembly instructions and construct a complete idea that looks even remotely like the image on the box.

    • July 5, 2011 12:07 pm

      Unfortunately, I’ve found that ideas from IDEA are usually little more than cardboard laminated with the thin veneer of an idea.

  4. July 5, 2011 2:53 pm

    Many great pointers here for a novice ideasmith such as myself. Thanks for the tips! I’ve been stuffing a dictation recorder into my toupee trying to record the voices in my head’s suggestions for my next post. Any of you who have taken a peek at my blog realize that this has not worked out too well. I’ve had to resort to scraping my neighbour’s schnauzer’s ideas from the bottom of my shoes.

    • July 5, 2011 8:07 pm

      Even though their ideas are sometimes crappy, as in your unfortunate case, dogs often come up with the best ideas … because they can.

  5. July 5, 2011 8:09 pm

    Wait. Blog posts are supposed to contain “ideas”? Crap.

  6. July 5, 2011 8:23 pm

    Ideas. Or pictures of naked people. Either will work.

  7. July 5, 2011 11:45 pm

    You stole my idea for writing a post about where I get my ideas!

  8. July 10, 2011 12:16 pm

    Wal-mart sucks here, basically everything I want pretty much cannot be seen on the shelves, really gets poor categories.

    • July 10, 2011 1:57 pm

      I know what you mean. I went in the other day for a live manatee, a Gutenberg bible, and a distributor cap for a Model T, and came out completely empty handed. Though I did get a haircut for $14.95.

  9. July 10, 2011 11:04 pm

    you’re fucking hilarious. In case you didn’t know this.

  10. July 10, 2011 11:33 pm

    F’ing A, man. By which I mean flying angels. Flying angels who drop the f bomb and get tattoos.

  11. July 14, 2011 4:16 am

    Hang around a group of sexually deprived military spouses, and you will have enough ideas to last you a lifetime. Really enjoying your blog, and your willingness to share – ideas and all!

    • July 14, 2011 10:46 am

      Hang around a group of sexually deprived military spouses, and you will have enough ideas to last you a lifetime.

      I think you should start writing a memoir immediately.

  12. July 19, 2011 8:01 pm


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