Accidental Collage {Preserve Your Story ~ Day 9}

A piece of history was set to be put out for the garbage if we didn’t come pick it up, this giant music box handmade in the 1920s right here in my state. My husband and his dad drove 20 hours round-trip through swarms of cicadas to bring it home.

We had hopes for curing its tone-deafness, to tighten the strings to perfect pitch, but one look at the piano and our tuner friend said it was no use.

So, we gave in and opened the upright grand to hollow it out and make room for my keyboard. Hinges creaked and the smell of history rose up, the aroma of old wood soaked in with years of smoke from burned dinners and moisture from flooded cellars.

We loosened the yellowed keys and the felted hammers and pulled them out one by one. We plucked tired strings on the heavy harp. Inside, tucked between keys or hiding in the cavity behind the damper and sustain, there was treasure, an accidental collection of items: a 1930s postcard swirled with fancy cursive, a tiny green pencil with hardened eraser, old coins and a matchbox car with chipped paint.

When I came across Real Simple’s article “Lost and Found” a few weeks ago, I started wishing I’d kept the little collection discovered on the inside of the piano. It’s art really, the way some things group together on accident in natural time capsules.

Author Judith Stone tells of how writer’s block had her pacing in front of a dresser. In manic procrastination and avoidance, she opened a junk drawer full of random items from her travels.

There were “scraps of ornamental paper, a tea canister lacy with rust, baroque buttons, appealing shards of crockery, mate-less earrings too pretty to pitch, a Burmese candy wrapper.” She found herself turning over an old bamboo sushi box and gluing bits of memory to the back of the box. It turned out so pretty that she put it in a frame. She goes on, “Feeling strangely refreshed, I returned to my deadline work and finished it. Sticking stuff together had gotten me unstuck.”

In a bout of writer’s block in my first trimester of pregnancy earlier this fall (we’re due April 4 of next year!), I wanted to keep writing. But what could I write when every bit of energy was going to beginning that beautiful life and no ideas were flowing? Fatigue and nausea had me cratered in the couch.

I reached over to the coffee table and picked up Keri Smith’s How to Be an Explorer of the World”. From here? An explorer of the world? And then activity #1 gave me permission to write right where I was sitting.

With my pen, I took down an inventory of everything I saw on the floor: Elliot’s drawing of the spider version of himself. My husband’s high school marching band trumpet, dented and tarnished. The Swazi grass baskets that I didn’t even haggle for because they were such a good deal with my exchange rate. The replica of Rodin’s “Eve” that marks our time out spot. A lone drumstick. Toy train tracks. Dirt and crumbs. A balloon losing its helium. A houndstooth pillow from the couch. Two kitchen towels, makeshift blankets for Farah’s dolls. A Beatrix Potter book. Leather flip flops found as a pair…a rarity. The schoolboy’s backpack. A barrel hamper lugged downstairs by children in need of a pretend rabbit hole.

Just like we pulled the surprise collection out of the dust inside our old piano, I found a collection of curiosities right there in my living room. Even when I felt low like the balloon on the floor, life continued to happen around me (and in me). The fun went on even when I didn’t have the energy to guide it, and the floor inventory in my journal helps me remember that.

These accidental collages capture time and place and show us the art of the moment and the mess.

{Take down a written inventory of something ordinary in your environment: your floor, your bookshelf, your junk drawer. In the accidental collage, what theme or metaphor do you find coming together? What internal thoughts/feelings can you relate the collection to? Share your findings and any links in the comments below.}

This is Day 9 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change.

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Time Capsule {Gift from the Sea Re-opened…and Giveaway Winner!}

From The Dress of Many Colors, by Darcy Wiley:

“Help,” Libby mouthed toward Clarence, too late to catch his eye. She pressed her lips between her teeth. Should she try and break free? This was so much so soon, Paul wrapping his arms around her like they were going steady.

But then a familiar shape came into focus. There at the chipping layers of McBride’s Bluff, Libby’s eyes lingered on a segment of rock, a memory of the sea that had once covered the place. Where had it all gone, those immeasurable liters that once buried the ground she would walk on, the cliffs she would climb?

Water was still drawn to the place. Every spring the river recalled the legend of that ancient ocean, rising high along rock faces, seeping into brick buildings, saturating soil. Just a few months earlier, the river had again broken its boundaries and crept up to that very spot. She remembered paddling the canoe past it.

“What’s on your mind?” Paul whispered hot in her ear.

She moved through his arms like she was swinging a gate open and sped to the rock face, a landing place where she could stand firmly in the tide of Paul’s sudden affection. He jogged forward, reached out and captured her hand in his and rested the tips of his fingers in between her knuckles, like little ships in port. Just as quickly, she worked her hand out of his and pointed at the work of art in front of them.

“See this?” she formed a frame with her thumbs and index fingers. Paul lifted his discarded hand and pressed his finger into the grooves of a tiny fossil, the armor of a little sea creature etched into the stone tablet of history, an imprint preserved from the long-ago dream of a time before the water was shallow enough for the place to be called Shoals.

“The Great Flood,” he said.

She forced out a breath and locked in on the tube in Paul’s hand. “Are you planning on fixing something?” she asked.

“Oh, this? You ever seen a time capsule?” The tube did look a little like the thing the President had buried in the ground at the World’s Fair a few years back. It was a man’s form of a Mason jar, a way to capture the moment, freeze it in time, preserve it for a future generation to relish. She pictured the glass and shimmery Cupaloy. That and its tapered ends left the 7-foot capsule looking less like something in the kitchen pantry and more like something in the nation’s armory. Libby nodded at Paul.

“Seems a lot of people around here are searching for treasure,” Paul motioned to Clarence’s contraption, a hefty box connected to a long pole connected to a disc that looked like a film reel, “What do you say we bury a bit of our own?” Something solid bounced off the ends of the tube as he shook it back and forth. And when he placed the pipe into the rocky soil near the metal detector, the machine cheeped and squealed.

What you read above is an excerpt from a novel that I’ve been working on for years. The chapters in themselves are like little time capsules that keep a bit of my style, philosophy and skill level just as they were at the time I wrote the words. Every time I go back to the drafts, I find something that needs editing. The written word, whether kept in a computer file, or printed on real paper and bound with a spine, or shared out in the blogosphere, has a way of capturing a slice of the author’s life at that very moment. And when we re-open our own works, we find how much we ourselves have changed.

Through this, I can relate even in a small way with Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s feelings on re-opening her time capsule, her bestselling memoir of her time in Captiva. In her afterword, written twenty years after initial publication, she shares her astonishment that her book of essays has indeed resonated with so many women and also that she could be so naive about the state of women’s rights and quality of life in 1955.

After reading the list of Mrs. Lindbergh’s domestic duties in chapter 2, my friend Julie commented, “AML claimed that her husband was more of a feminist than she was (Winters, 2006, p. 74). However, I don’t see “equality” written on these pages!” When re-opening her book twenty years later, it seems the author agreed that the work for women’s equality was nowhere near complete in 1955: “I realize in hindsight and humility how great and how many were–and are–the victories still to be won.”

She went on to write of how she admired her daughters and other young women who were “better mothers than I was…and the admitted equals of their husbands in intelligence and initiative.” Yet, through this reading, I remember reflecting on the role of fathers in that very generation, my parents’ generation, and chuckling at how disconnected many of them were from domestic work and the often tedious care of children. I even commented that “part of the reason it took me so long to say ‘yes’ to marriage was my fear of having to be the sole person in charge of” those things.

I agree with Tristi’s comment: “As I look at my own life, I see the benefits of my husband as an involved father, doing things men were unheard of doing in those days (changing diapers). It’s nice to have the freedom to have a girls’ night out or even be able to embrace some time alone and know he’ll be willing to stay home with the kids.”

A big part of the emphasis on teamwork, I believe, has come from women being willing to communicate needs and desires to their husbands. Like AML wrote, “They are airing their problems, discovering themselves and comparing their experiences. More important, they are beginning to talk to men, openly and honestly, often arguing and challenging, but at last trying to explain what they felt could never be explained…. And men, to their great credit, for the most part are listening and, I believe, understanding more than we ever expected.”

I admire my mother for her tireless efforts in taking care of four children as a stay-at-home mom whose work never seemed to be done, and in view of all that, I admire her for carving out time for her own creative passions like writing stories, playing piano, or painting landscapes. I know her long commitment to exploring and practicing her talents helped her through the empty nester phase “when a mother alone is left, the lone hub of a wheel, with no other lives revolving about her” and helped her “come to terms with [herself] not only in a new stage of life but in a new role.” And her commitment to those pursuits as a young mother is an inspiration to me as I experiment with how to enjoy and work hard at my own calling to motherhood and to creative writing.

Our art, our music, our words, they all capture this moment in time and keep it for future generations, or our future selves. I am thankful Anne Morrow Lindbergh captured her thoughts for us, even if there were things she would have changed when looking back.

{I’ve had such a fun summer with these weekly getaways in the pages of Gift from the Sea. Sifting through these words with you all has brought in new friends and allowed me to grow closer with some wonderful women I already knew. Thank you to Kerry, Tristi, Julie, Amber and others who commented so thoughtfully over the course of our summer book club…and thank you to those of you who chimed in toward the end. Out of 162 eligible comments in our Souvenirs from the Sea Giveaway, the winner chosen at random was #135…Kerry!!! She has been such a faithful part of the discussion from week to week and I’m so glad she’ll get to enjoy these souvenirs from our time together. Be sure to swing over to her blog and get to know her a bit. She’s a breath of fresh air.}