One of the very human foibles that writers have, along with everyone else, is collecting things that may not monetary value, but are important because of the memories they evoke. We should remember this when we are creating characters for our fiction, because it makes them realistic to share the same sentiments we all do when it comes to holding on to things from the past.
I never set out to be a collector. Whenever I’ve read about millionaires with fabulous private collections of art and sculpture, I’ve thought why not just keep a few pieces you really love and give the rest on loan to a museum or gallery so that others can share their beauty.
Yet I find now that I do have collections. They’re not worth any money and probably no-one else would want them. Most people in my age group have accumulated possessions they can’t bear to part with, despite moving homes and maybe even countries several times in their lives.
Who remembers that song of yesteryear: “Among My Souvenirs”? Part of the lyrics were:
“Some letters tied with blue,
A photograph or two,
I find a rose from you
Among my souvenirs….”
What we are really collecting are memories. There are times in our lives we want to hold on to forever and when we handle these mementoes, they bring a smile to our lips, a tear to our eyes and a bittersweet wave of nostalgia.
I have more than a thousand books, and nowhere to put them all. Those that overflow my bookshelves are stowed in cardboard cartons. Many are paperbacks, yellowed pages and tattered covers. But to throw them out would be like disposing of dear friends. Lots of poetry – some by almost-forgotten writers like Alice Duer Miller, Rupert Brooke, A. E.Housman, Dorothy Parker. Old novels by Somerset Maugham, Evelyn Waugh, Hemingway, Steinbeck. Wonderful books of Jewish essays. Books on philosophy, psychology, the craft of writing. They all represent my youth, when I discovered the world and the wonders it contained. No, I can’t throw them away!
Then there are the photos. They started out in albums, but now there are too many and I’m too lazy. Beloved family no longer with us . Friends of my youth. Weddings. Babies bright-eyed and dimpled. Rites of passage – first day at kindergarten and school; barmitzvahs; graduations. Grandchildren. Holidays. They are all cherished, and overflow in drawers and cabinets.
Bric a brac. One earring (the other lost) given by your first boyfriend. Small children’s awkward drawings. Their clumsy efforts at making you strange things from wood or papier mache. A letter on a torn page that proclaims in shaky letters: “Grandma, I love you.” How could you ever toss those?
And now I also have a collection of shells and rocks. Most were gifts from grandchildren who wanted to give me something in return for the toys I gave them. There is a pine cone and a curiously-shaped rock. Shells you can put to your ear and hear the sea. And stones I gathered at the Dead Sea on my sister’s last visit here, when we spent a perfect day of peace and tranquility together, exchanging memories of our parents and siblings, our childhood, the dreams we realized and the ones we lost along the way. All precious. All irreplaceable.
So when you are creating characters, remember to give them a few things to hold on to, that you can refer to and reveal the sentimental side of their lives.
“Get rid of the clutter” we’re told. Not me. I shall go on collecting mementoes and memories until I die. And I hope my children, even then, will save a few of them. Because some things are worth more than money!
For any Israeli readers of my Blog, I will be giving a talk in Rehovot on April 27th at 10.30 a.m. where my books will also be available. The topic is “When Life Touches You – turning emotions into memorable fiction. The address is Swiss Hayavot Community “Center, 52 Sireni Street, Rehovot 76249. Would love to see you there.