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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Pebbles on the Beach


Are you a collector?

When on vacation, I find it impossible to resist bringing back a piece of the place. How better to preserve memories of special times, gatherings, food, music, and scenery than holding it, literally, in one’s hand?

Sometimes a “piece” means a cheap refrigerator magnet in the shape of the Mayflower, but often it means a literal piece picked off the ground. My husband is from Athens, Greece, and visits to his family always include a trip to the beach. The ubiquitous pebble beaches of Greece are a wonderful place to find packable treasures. Marble chunks smoothed by years in the Mediterranean Sea. The whitest pebbles, or the blackest. Pieces of blue and green bottles. Broken terracotta so smooth it seems like an ordinary pebble, but one that might have originated in some ancient past. Each pebble contains the power to bring back visions of my kids dancing in a village square, laughing and stumbling over the fancy Greek footwork.

Collect words
In my writing, too, I am a collector. When I first began, I voraciously sought out “how-to” books. How to structure a story. How to bring believable characters or plots to life. How to build a platform. Then I realized: I was doing a lot more reading about writing than actually writing. Has this happened to you? We “feel” like writers, therefore we are? Nope. Not unless we are writing! Now, I prefer collecting books of words, unique thesaurus-style books filled with words relevant to whatever theme I am exploring barefoot at the moment.

Keep a small notebook
Collect special sayings that touch your heart in a notebook. They might worm their way into a book's theme. A small notebook can be a writer’s best friend, easily on hand to record the joys/pains of life. Annual events like the 4th of July would seem easy to recall, as they happen pretty much the same every year—but on a winter’s day writing about it, are you going to remember the sound of the American stripes flapping in a strong breeze, or its hooks clanging a summer music against the flagpole? Will you remember the sting of lemon in a fresh cut, or the pesky bee buzzing around the pitcher of lemonade? 


  1. Hi Suzanne:

    I love your idea of collecting word books. I'm still in the "collecting how to books" phase and guilty of doing a lot of reading and need to do more writing.

    I'm going to search out the word books and a little notebook. Thanks for the great suggestions.

    Kristi Rhodes

  2. Mmm...a tropical coffee break is exactly what I need right now! Thanks for stopping by, Kristi!

  3. What a thought provoking post! You got me thinking about why we collect mementos of treasured experiences. Are these meant to help a faulty short term memory like the video tape Lucy Whitmore (Drew Barrymore) viewed every morning in Fifty First Dates? Are they status symbols that first occupy places of prominence on the mantle and slowly work their way to a box in the attic and ultimately the side of the driveway as tag sale like the possessions of Larry Crowne in the eponymous movie? You may have guessed that I’ve never been a sentimental collector. It’s not that I never hoard junk; I collect all sorts of impractical stuff: out of date textbooks, pieces of wood too small for keeping, and car parts that fit old clunkers that have long been recycled. But I’ve never got into the habit of collecting physical mementos of happy times. That is why I like what you said about written words. It doesn’t matter if it is memoir or a piece of fiction. Writing gives me a chance to relieve those extraordinary moments by looking inside. Sharing those experiences in my fiction allows me to experience them again, far better than a ceramic figure on my mantle.

  4. Thanks, David, for adding pebbles of thoughts to the pile! I used to take the "mantle of prominence" approach to collecting objects along the way -- a "see where I've been!" display. Now, much more often the physical bits help kick-start the memory. My kids often ask for stories from their childhoods, and the tales I pull out of the memory bank are almost always the ones that I have re-lived through photos or specific toys/objects that remind me, rather than simply remembering a childhood moment.