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Thursday, July 28, 2016

Inspiration Things

Beside my bed sits a brass fountain pen and inkwell. Beside it a small sheathed dagger used by Sikhs to cut the ceremonial sweet dough after prayer. Books by Alice Munro, John Cheever, Andre Dubus flank a rosewood box containing the ash-remains of my beloved dog Hemingway. A teak box intricately carved with a quincunx design holds various designer wristwatches, their batteries run down. In the same case, above those two wooden boxes, stand more books, hardbound copies with their spines facing out of works by Faulkner, Lahiri, Steinbeck, and others. At the very top shelf is a small statute of Garuda, the bird god of Hindu myth, carved in Indonesia. I am not sure how it came into my possession.

In my bathroom a cream-colored built in cabinet stretches along one wall, flanked by two doors, each leading to the walk-in closet. The cabinet faces a Jacuzzi bathtub that is seldom used. In the bookcase rest more books and objects, for instance a Porsche ball point pen given to me as a gift by my son's godparents, various coins, perhaps wrinkles receipts. A book of poems by Langston Hughes sits alone on one shelf, Hughes's handsome face gazing out at me as I brush my teeth with the electric toothbrush or shave with my safety razor. There are books by Shakespeare, T.S. Eliot, Browning, and Dickinson in the bathroom, because I believe that poetry is a cleansing art, more akin to music and the reveries of revelation than its connection to literature. Poetry is alchemy whose practitioners crack open our hearts so we too feel the richness of nature and love, and the pulsating darkness of death and the void. What thoughts to contemplate after drying oneself off with a bath towel?

On my toilet sits another book of whatever it is I am reading at the moment. This week it is the Collected Stories and Writings of John Cheever. I like to revisit books, books I've read before, because each time I read them I, like so many of us who enjoy reading, discover them anew. We discover a detail we've missed, and it gives us both thrill and frustration: Thrill that we have rediscovered something meaningful that touches our hearts and expands our minds, and frustration that we didn't see it before.

All around my house are books, books, books, and objects, objects, objects that refer me back to places I've been, things I have touched, decisions made, courses traveled, people I have been, and activities abandoned. Nowhere is this more evident than in my writing room ( I loathe to call it an office). A wrapped chocolate cigar announcing the birth of my son, a 19th century surgical device in a corrugated box, a brass lock taken from my parents' house, a pice of anthracite with both shiny and dull surfaces, a fossilized rock in which a trilobite lies embedded, a whiskey flask with the Jolly Rogers skull and crossbones, a postcard of a gargoyle from the Notre Dame cathedral, and a piece of driftwood from a beach in Big Sur. Placed before my books, other objects sit, stand or lie, dormant yet charged with memory. The thrill of seeing them, touching them, holding them, is to ponder the person I was, so they in some real sense serve as portals to other places, other times. They also serve as representations of my subconscious, and things of inspiration.

Though once abandoned, they have landed on my shelves, in my bedroom, and bathroom, and writer's room, they still have use, though to what use I put them solely relies on my imagination, or I may never put them to use. I like to revisit them time and time again, to discover new details about them I had missed before. These objects are a lot like people. I often think that if I don't put them to some new use, they will live only in the real world as mysterious things.

After I am dead, maybe someone will collect them and attempt to infer from them the person I was. They will make decisions about me, then place those keepsakes in a box and set them out by the trash bins. But if these things happen to make their way into stories which others may read, they will be transformed into what TS Eliot called Objective Correlatives, or they may populate a story as simple objets d'art. 

I think they deserve a new life. They deserve to be repurposed, like the reclaimed oak table that sits in my family room. These objects are not unlike the characters and people we pass through, brush up against, live out of focus of the corner of our eyes, people and characters who deserve their voices heard, their eccentricities exposed, their lives entered and reconstituted by a writer's imagination.