One of the writing exercises I use to get to know my characters and give to my writing students when we’re working on character development, is an interview where you ask your character all sorts of nosey questions, but my favorite question is “what’s in your pocket?” It can also be framed as: what’s in your backpack, what’s in your purse, what’s in that cigar box under your bed, or what’s on your windowsill? I find this a very telling investigation. I think you can guess a lot about a person, a character, yourself, by not only the practical things carried or stored, but by the less ‘useful’ items chosen to keep close.
Even as an urban dweller, my pockets always have pebbles, seashells, seed pods, feathers—treasures from nature that ground me and remind me who I am, where I’ve been and some of what I love. From time to time, my purse gets so heavy, it feels like it’s full of stones—because it is. When the weight becomes unbearable, I sort through, chose one or two to keep and return the others to the park, the beach, a garden. The keepers go in a pot on my kitchen windowsill along with the other items that have earned this distinguished place of honor. Besides my writing desk, my little kitchen window gets more face time than nearly any other interior view—it’s where I stand to wash and slice fruits and vegetables, fill the tea kettle, trim and feed house plants, sip a cool glass of water after a long walk.
But inside, the things that line my sill are intimate reminders of parts of me I do not want to lose: a jar of shells and stones; a vase my sister brought me from Czechoslovakia decades ago, since cracked, now filled with feathers, my water color brushes and wish bones (saved up for the day I really need them); a fragment of pottery I found in the gutted foundation of the house my great grandparents built on their homestead in Montana in a previous century; sand dollars from the Washington coast; hand carved spoons (because my husband knows I love spoons); a scrawny aloe vera plant (for kitchen cuts and burns); a candle in a slipper (a fairytale token); a small icon of an angel (because everyone needs an angel watching over them); a rubber stamp of a luna moth (because a real luna moth is too fragile to keep on a window sill). Somehow these things help define me; they are symbols, metaphors, talismans. And like the pebbles in my pocket, they keep me, everyday, from floating away.
So, what I’d like to know (because I’m nosey and because I’d like to know you better) is: what’s in your pocket? Or on your windowsill? And why do you have them there?
Take Good Care,