Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Writers are collectors

You may not find a series of shelves massed with tiny figurines or thirty-odd tennis racquets mounted on the wall and never used, but we're collectors.  We keep scraps of images, places, phrases, and emotions.  Some of us organize them in neat rows on revolving memories deep in our subconscious while others of us let them tumble about getting stuck together, so we can just reach in and grab a clump.  But we are constantly collecting from the world of experience around us.

pine resin, cool breeze, the heavy alarm of cicadas
I have lived all over the US, visited abroad a few times, and I can smell and hear these places no matter what current place is about me. In my mind the Narraganset trail lays out before me, twisting eagerly toward the Oregon Trail which I also know well in parts.  Standing on the deck of a ferry moving between Seattle, Washington, and Victoria, Canada, I can feel the rumble beneath my feet, the stiff breeze dragging at my ponytailed hair, the stacks of tandem bicycles filling the lower deck, row after row of them.  I can still see the riders standing about chatting in their matching jerseys and riding shoes that clicked in awkward careful steps that seemed to lean the riders slightly back on their heals.

I recall the day I moved into a new house when I was nine years old.  We moved often, and I had formed the habit of running outside to check out the neighborhood the moment I was excused by my parents.  I would peer up and down the street searching for children near my size and age.  This day I looked beyond the cul-de-sac I lived in, across the connecting main road into another cul-de-sac.  Three little girls were playing in the street.  I don't remember how I introduced myself, but I do remember they greeted me warmly, and we played until twilight and the street lights began to flicker on, which was my signal to return home.  We agreed to play again the next day, to be life long friends.  Just as I was about to head home, one girl asked me if I was Catholic.  I admitted that I was Lutheran.  Suddenly, the girls became a wall, shoulder to shoulder in front of me.  One girl stated quite dismissively that they were not to play with children who were not Catholic.  They left me standing in the middle of that cul-de-sac watching their stiff little backs as they strode away.

I didn't go home despondent; I was confused.  We had had a lovely day playing together, and one word had changed everything.  The next day I met two girls who lived several blocks away but were far more willing to enjoy lovely days with me regardless of my faith.  All six of us took the same bus, but I don't think I ever talked or even glanced at those three cul-de-sac girls again.  I wasn't hurt, I wasn't angry.  But that moment of separation is saved inside me.

We writers gather these moments, and somehow they grow into stories, poems, essays, novels, and histories because we never stop looking at them, turning them about in our minds, viewing them from different angles, remembering tastes, textures, sensations of the moment.  We are connoisseurs of memory and experience.

What have you collected recently?


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