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Thursday, April 7, 2011

Flotsam and Jetsam

Cleaning is the first thing to neglect when I'm on a writing or revising binge, as I am these days. For the sake of my family's safety and sanity, I keep a semblance of order by scooping up clutter and throwing it into boxes or bags, to be sorted at some future date. Lately I've been looking at these boxes and bags in horror, wondering when I'll ever have time to deal with them, hoping I don't someday appear on the TV show "Hoarders." But I'm trying to reframe the way I look at this stuff. I've realized that all the strange odds and ends I'm accumulating, the flotsam and jetsam of my daily life, might make for fun writing prompts some day. (Assuming I someday finish my edits, and that my son stops getting these weekly colds and ear infections, and that I will one day write something fresh again).

So today I'm picking a random bag -- which happens to be my "purse" -- and listing some of its contents, for a future writing exercise. At the very least, it's a fun exercise in noticing details, and makes me feel like my clutter-gathering is actually productive. Feel free to swipe any of these bizarre items if you are so inspired:

1. A one-inch foundational layer of spilled pretzel sticks. (My son loves these pretzel snack bags for the car, but never finishes a bag. I put them in my purse. They spill. We open another bag. The cycle continues).

2. A toy double-decker bus from London. (Not that I actually went to London. It was a gift. For the pretzel guy -- see item #1).

3. A silver dinner fork, nicely weighted, from Brasserie Jo, a hip bistro in downtown Boston where my husband and I ate a few weeks ago. Disturbingly, I have no memory of dropping a fork in my bag, nor does he. (An excellent writing prompt here . . . does it contain DNA evidence for some crime, and was it planted in my bag? Or am I prematurely embarking on an elderly person's penchant for stealing cutlery from restaurants? What's next -- dinner rolls wrapped up in napkins?) (More disturbingly, I found the fork several weeks ago, and then . . . PUT IT BACK IN THE PURSE. Oh my God. Who does that??)

4. A prescription of Paxil for my cat.

5. Three mismatched mittens. (From three little kittens?)

6. Six straws from Starbucks. (Not really straws. They are Units of Time. My son can sometimes ride out a long wait in a line by playing with straws. However, they do devalue).

7. Four hand sanitizers -- gels and sprays. (Note: none worked this winter).

8. Coupon for the Big Apple Circus. (Good times!)

9. Small bag of Halloween candy. (Bribe for pediatrician office yesterday).

10. Five receipts with notes for my novel revision scrawled on the back. (Valuable).

Individually, any of these items could become the seed of a story.

Collectively, these things give a pretty accurate snapshot of my personality and life these days. I keep a semblance of order, but it's illusory and temporary -- chaos threatens to erupt from the neat-looking boxes and bags. I have zero spare time, and am desperate for any snatch of time I can grab. I spend much of my time caring for a small child and facilitating a distressed cat, but fight to keep my identity as an individual person and as a writer. I crave a classier lifestyle at times (Brasserie Jo, London) but don't always get there (I'll be using that Big Apple Circus coupon next week).

What's in your bag? What do the tiny, random objects from your daily life say about you, or about a possible character?

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