birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Box of Rocks

I keep so many little things, and it’s because they are charged. I have a swizzle stick yet from a university function from 15 years ago. I kept it to remember that I once when to a reception where there was the university emblem emblazoned on the top of this stirrer. And that is probably not a keepsake to feel guilty about -- by the way the idea of a keepsake has me immediately feeling some judgement and shame about all the things I keep. I guess I keep them for the memories. The guilt comes from the cost of continued possession: the challenge of storage, the fear that I will accumulate too much, and the burden of protecting items that could be enjoyed by others. But another alternative is that could be just doomed into a decaying pile. And maybe they are right now, but it’s my doomed, decaying pile -- and they are sort of organized.

Is the sofa in my storage unit a keepsake from the times I’ve had an apartment? Will I bring it into use again? I hope so. Keepsakes are about hope. Not necessarily about the usefulness of an item but the idea that the memories or thoughts charged into it will transport you to another time, to bring you a certain feeling. I stash things away like I’m sprinkling breadcrumbs to find my past. And it’s not a linear trail, the order is not necessarily important. So the items in my storage unit are basically bits of dried bread that I keep out of the elements. To someday feed all the seagulls in my soul. Someday there will be quite a feast when my items are liberated out of that unit. Maybe I could give the seagulls a little snack, when I’m feeling kind and generous.

But there are boxes I just don’t want to deal with. It’s gone pretty well to just haul them around, always lifting with the knees. I end up keeping a lot of paper and paper is heavy. Will I ever want to open those boxes? Do I want to remember all the little ticket stubs and patches from travels 25 years ago? I don’t even know what is in that one box, and I guess I’m not even so curious, but there might be something that proves my memories are real. The receipts of a life in progress.

One way I envision these items making sense of my life is through my own interpretation. I kind of see it as a grand writing exercise to have all these prompts I will get to someday. And maybe I would just write a paragraph about a thing, but then what to do with the object? Say, that Texas-shaped curio shelf? It felt like such a treasure. Will I ever even use it? Do I want to? I could photograph it fully and then send it on its way. But thinking of my possessions as part of some kind of archiving or art project could just endear myself to them further. It’s hard for me to get rid of useful things, and these keepsakes are potentially very useful to me.

In recent years I have visited some beautiful natural areas and have collected rocks, beautiful rocks and even just nice specimens of ordinary rocks. These rocks were lovely mementos at the time that allowed me to bring a bit of that place and feeling forward with me through time, but when I consider the box of ordinary rocks I could assemble, rocks that I would not know where to place. These rocks are a bunch of illegible receipts, and they break the system of keeping track of memories. The rocks are keepsakes that say in broad strokes: “I was somewhere, things happened to me, I did some things, I considered this object worth picking up, and now I am somewhere else on my journey.” As I roll on with time, my box of rocks will grow.


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