Just pick an object and force yourself to say something, anything about it. At least one page, preferably handwritten.*
You may find that as you dig for information about the object, your subconscious kicks in to uncover something more meaningful. Mine found a lifelong pattern I've never thought to realize.
And I should warn you, it went to a dark place I didn't anticipate at all. You may want to skip this if you're emotionally sensitive.
A Charm Bracelet
My fascination with bracelets began early. It kicked in at precisely the moment Sarah had to trade hers for information in Labyrinth.
I never asked for jewelry on birthdays or Christmases. My parents like to remind me that I asked for "socks and pencils." It made them sad. They thought it was an indication I was worried about money. I don't remember if they were right or wrong.
For years, all we could get my dad for Christmas were handkerchiefs and large cans of peanuts. That's pretty much all he wanted. No matter how we begged and pleaded with him to give us ideas, it was always the same. Handkerchiefs and peanuts. (Or maybe he was worried about money? Oh...I get it now.)
As an adult, I'm still not particularly interested in jewelry. I'd rather have an experience or give an experience to someone else. Fun. A trip. Food. Take me out. In fact, I fancy myself a minimilast in all areas.
|Godspeed by Edmond B Brighton|
It's worth noting, my mother makes jewelry. I have vivid memories of this from childhood. I watched her roll colorful chunks of clay on our kitchen table. She'd smooth and sculpt tiny, miniature parrots for earrings.
She cruised the fishing aisle often, searching for sparkly and interesting pieces of synthetic bait to adorn with a hook and hang in her ear. If I slide my desk drawer open, I can see the delicate decoupaged jewelry box she made me. It bears the image of a woman speaking to a knight...an image with words! Words I noticed for the very first time while looking solely for the purposes of this free-write. It's the name of the painting and the artist.
Contained in the box are silver earrings. They are replicated from an ancient pair found at an archaeological dig site in Israel. There is a medallion of St. Christopher I bought at a street market in Bulgaria in 2005. A resin portrait of Mary I bought in Mexico in 1997. A pearl necklace from Hawaii, a gift from my mother-in-law she gave me for no particular reason at all; and there's the mood ring my husband used to pop the question.
Mom still creates elaborate beaded necklaces that hang across her clavicle. She weaves dizzying patterns in pink and turquoise and lavender. For the last thirty years, everywhere we go, people will inevitably stop her and say, "Where did you get that?!" She'll stand a little taller, beam with pride and say, "I made it." Then she usually takes it off and gives it to them.
She adopted this tradition after a beautiful Indian woman gave her the glittery pink scarf right off her shoulders. My mother complimented her on the scarf as she stood in the grocery store checkout line. The rest is history.
My mother-in-law began gifting me with bracelets almost immediately after my wedding eleven years ago. Beautiful silver cords with meaningful charms. An apple to represent my love of teaching. My married initials. A cross.
Sometimes she gives me delicate beaded anklets that I wear to the shorelines and spring waters of my Florida home. (Where I definitely don't pretend to be Daryl Hannah from Splash. When I allow myself to think of beautiful jewelry, it is through the safe lens of childhood memory. Ariel's shell necklace, Marion Ravenwood's staff piece, etc.) Gift-giving is her love language. For a long time, I was too confused by sweetness to understand these little tributes. I felt guilty because I was amassing this little collection of treasures.
Ever since I read the book "Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger" in 2005, I've felt guilty for any and every possession I own. The book posits that as we work and progress through life, anything extra we earn should go to the poor. I completely agree with that. Yet here I sit, in a home I own, typing on a laptop that sits on a desk I bought at Target.
I think of suffering often, both human and animal. I've seen it up close. It's the kind of thing you never forget. I've seen children in Mexico walk to the city dump every day like it's their job. They scramble barefoot over heaps of metal to look for anything they can sell or eat. They never flinch when they cross paths with a desert tarantula. They don't balk at snakes. Every single day of my life, I think of them. I wonder if they've had a tetanus shot. I know they're hungry.
I think of the street kids from Romania every day too, given bags of glue to huff by local merchants so they'll go away and not be a nuisance. Those boys always adopted the street dogs they shared space with, never hesitating to give them an equal share of the food found from trash cans. I can't bear to keep writing about this. I carry it around every day. Yet it's not nearly as heavy as the people who actually have to GO THROUGH THESE THINGS day in and day out.
Those are just the things I saw with my eyes, that's not even counting what I've seen through a screen. The dog meat farms of China and South Korea. The pig farms of America. I get that people are going to eat meat, but if they knew about the horror show of where it came from...
All these memories and thoughts make me hate myself. When we're overwhelmed by sadness or fear or emotion, we tend to shut down. "We," she says instead of "I", creating some dissociation. This is what it's like to live inside a mind that looks at a bracelet and sees the value system of the world as rolled over like a boat in a stormy sea. Up is down and down is up and I have a bracelet while people are starving to death and I simply do not know where to begin.
I watch a lot of movies. Too many, probably. (Definitely.) In the colorful, escapist films of Bollywood, particularly any set in the past, bracelets and anklets are indicators. They can be part of traditional wedding garb and the sounds they make are meaningful, very frequently mentioned in song lyrics.
I'm thinking now, for the very first time, about that story my mother tells. The one about how she got her glittery pink scarf. There's a connection there. Something about home and family. Something about value and belonging and minimalism.
But when someone gifts you with something, it's a symbol. It's not yours to give away, no matter your convictions. It's amazing how something so small can push sadness or guilt up and out of us. A kindness can antagonize an aching heart.
To me, they are not just bracelets. They are adornments. Tiny little crowns meant to remind me I'm loved, that I belong to my family. That my mother-in-law wanted me to have this little gift, whether I feel I deserved it or not. The generosity of my family makes me feel ashamed of myself and I don't know why exactly.
But if I could take this bracelet and slip it onto the arm of a child at the scrap heap, I would do so in an instant. Here are your earrings from Israel. Sell them for food. Here is your St. Christopher's medal. Sell it to buy protection for one night in a hotel. Here is your pearl necklace, you very tiny queen. Keep it or sell it, do whatever you want. It makes you an authority. It adorns you with possibility.
And if I would, I should. WHY DON'T I?
*These archaeological writing exercises that mine the memory are brought to you by the influence of my grad school mentor Jill Christman. She worked in a memory lab during her grad school days and brought that research into our Inspirations class. I like to think of her as the Stanislavski of essay writing.
I started grad school wanting to write funny essays. I wanted to be like Miranda Hart or Nora Ephron. Observational. Light. Fun. As an avid mystery fan, I've learned to find it delightful that simply focusing on one object in the room can solve a mystery in your mind you didn't even know existed. Delightful and at times, exhausting.
And today, sad. But at least that sadness is up and out of my subconscious and onto a page. I'm free of it for a few hours now.