Writer’s Workshop: Write about your collections, real or imagined.
There was a time in my life when my collections bordered on the obsessive compulsive. You might recall The Corner that teetered in the far reaches of my childhood bedroom which was really just a vortex of crap that would come tumbling down with the slightest disturbance. There was truly a scary amount of plastic hotel shower caps living there at the time.
But as it happens, somewhere along the line of my life I grew out of such hoarding. [Yes, hoarding. Because really, what well-balanced adult needs 67
unsharpened sharpened Lisa Frank pencils? Oh wait - YOU SHARPENED THEM, ABBEY. REMEMBER?] Picking up the original thread… As years rolled around themselves, I slowly gave away my stamps and my rocks. My coins and my Highlights magazines from 1984, their hidden image puzzles completed. And I moved on with things.
However, I never really stopped collecting. Now, it seems, I collect stories and circumstances from the people around me instead of inanimate objects added one by one to a hidden cache. I hungrily absorb them as one feasts after a lifetime of dieting, greedily storing them away to think on later or write down for closer inspection.
I wonder why the two women on the street this evening spend their time collecting aluminum cans from the recycling bins of our building. Gloved and masked, they trudge up and down our street pulling comically enormous carts piled high with plastic bags of discarded soda cans. The bulging burdens swaying dangerously side to side as they make their way through the garbage. No judgment, just curious.
Or take the family of singers – Von Trapp style – who serenade Central Park every Saturday morning. They sing in perfect harmony as their voice climb high and low in echos around the Bethesda Fountain. They stand in a row from oldest to youngest, sometimes there are only five of them and other times closer to twelve. But they are always there, singing their hearts out and selling their homemade CDs.
Every day I meet people, watch people, hear people and their stories. Sometimes I collect an entire chapter of their lives through conversation, and other times I can only guess what kind of happiness or anguish or challenge the stranger on the train is facing. Maybe the wobbly old man with a cane grasped in his liver spotted hand and slightly rumpled bodega flowers is heading to visit his sick wife in the hospital at Lenox Hill. Then again, maybe he is celebrating the birth of his twentieth grandchild. Or maybe he just enjoys the bright pop of color to cheer up his living room.
But of all the collections I have brought home over the years, the stories are my most precious. And while the happy ones are my favorites, it is the ones filled with sorrow that remind me to be thankful. Because how can we see life’s hills without the valleys?
And what is life without stories.