Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The Things We Keep

Sandra Parshall

On my desk sits a small brown pottery jar, crammed full of pens and pencils. It’s not much to look at, but it has been on every desk I’ve had for many years and
unless it somehow gets broken into a million pieces, it will be on my desk for the rest of my life. On the bottom of the jar is the amateur potter’s name, scratched into the surface, the last three letters tiny and cramped because her name was long and she ran out of space. She was a dear friend of mine, and she died more than 30 years ago at the age of 28.

Most of us possess objects that mean far more than their physical properties would suggest. We hold them in our hands and remember someone who is no longer with us. We look at them and remember a moment that will never be equaled. They are talismans, symbols. The Agatha Award teapot assumed this magical aura the moment it was placed in my shaking hands. It represented the end of a long and painful struggle to get my work into print, to reach a point
where I could truly call myself a writer. I will never part with it. But which means more to me, the teapot or the little brown jar made by my friend? I don’t think I could choose.

When a writer gives a character an object with special meaning, the reader understands and is drawn into the character’s emotional life. Think of all the soldiers in novels and war movies who carry mementos of loved ones into battle and bring tears to our eyes simply by taking these precious objects out of their pockets and looking at them. And who could ever forget Citizen Kane and his sled named Rosebud? In the novel I recently completed, the main character, a young woman named Erin, receives a necklace with a ladybug charm on it as a gift from her parents. The day she receives it, the day she stops wearing it, and the day she fastens it around her neck again are major turning points in her life.

What objects do you own that have special meaning? Can you recall a fictional character whose attachment to a memento helped you understand his or her emotional life?


Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

What a lovely post.
I have a jar that looks very much like that, but I can't remember where it came from. So interesting.

On my desk are two carved rocks. One says "patience" and the other says "imagine." I have tried to tell myself they are NOT imbued with anything but being rocks, which is kind of deep in itself. But I know they are.

Of course--Dumbo had his magic feather. And we know what happened with that.

Sandra Parshall said...

My desk is actually rather crowded with meaningful things -- and I continue to accumulate them. See the little statue of an Eqyptian scribe next to the jar? My husband bought that for me many years ago when the King Tut exhibit was here at the National Gallery. I have a Carpe Diem paperweight, a four-leaf-clover paperweight, and one on which my late mother-in-law painted a raccoon (one of my favorite animals). More recent acquisitions include a little bulldog (gift from husband) that looks like Tom's dog Billy Bob in Disturbing the Dead, an action figure of Edgar A. Poe (complete with raven on the shoulder and laden with meaning for a mystery writer) given to me by my friend Carol, a yellow rubber ducky with a halo over its head given to me by Bonner, a local SinC and MWA friend, a black mug with Edgar's face painted on it from a library where I spoke with a book group about The Heat of the Moon, a 20th anniversary SinC mug, a mug from the Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, PA... One of these days I'll run out of room on the desk for my computer.

harmonysing said...

It was great to read your post. I came across your blog by accident, trying to find sites that were linked to our second cd release called "The Things We Keep". We are a male/female music duo who, after some life altering changes, found each other through music. Our record is about transitioning through change and holding onto the things of value. All the songs refer to the perspective that loss can give you and how, as we grow older, the things we keep (material and otherwise) make us into who we are now. I look forward to reading your book. Thank you!