The dreams that stuff is made of

There’s magic in objects. I don’t mean voodoo dolls and wizard’s wands. I’m talking about the aura that’s emitted by the T-shirt you wore to your first Grateful Dead concert – the sense of the sacred that makes that tattered rag impossible to throw out, even though you know you’ll never wear the damned thing again. I’m talking about the associations that make a relic of every item you save from your childhood home, from the prettiest platter to the lowliest note pad.

That’s how it worked for me, anyway. After my mother died, my siblings and I went through the old house, claiming keepsakes. I brought home a carload, and unpacked the boxes with a flourish, eager to reveal my treasures to my husband and the kids. They were interested enough. But not exactly excited. And why should they have been? The sort of magic of I’m talking about isn’t inherent in the things, themselves. It’s in the memories they prompt in us. The stories we bring to them. And unless we share the associations that make those cups and lamps so dear to us, their special status fades, and recede into the ranks of ordinary cups and lamps.

Clearly, if I wanted to preserve the magic of the objects I’d inherited, I would have to record all the stories and associations that made the stuff sacred. As a writer, I had no other choice.

My idea was to write a series of essays or short stories, one for each item. I began with the big round mirror that used to hang over my father’s mother’s sofa in Elizabeth, New Jersey. I started out with what I remembered about visiting that stuffy apartment when I was little, what I knew about Little Grandma.

But stories also have their own magic. What I did know soon gave way to what I didn’t know, and things that actually took place yielded to more interesting events that could have happened. Memory opened onto memory, facts led to fictions, and complications unfolded as characters created themselves. Ten years later, my story had evolved into the novel that is now in the hands of my agent. Few of the actual facts with which I started remain. What has survived is the emotion that impelled me begin, and to follow the project, through all its unexpected turns, to completion. I have also kept my original title: Little Grandma’s Mirror.

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3 Responses to “The dreams that stuff is made of”

  1. sarah ruth Says:

    is it weird that i’m reading my friend’s mom’s blog? i’m a twenty-first century woman!

    i feel so strongly about physical objects that they become like funny vessels for people and places i’ve known. it’s hard to know what to do with things when i feel like throwing away the old nightstand is akin to throwing away the sparse, starter-apartment life my parents had before i existed.

    i am already planning on buying a copy of your novel when it hits the shelves!

  2. linda Says:

    lovely, Ruth. If you write about the items here, they’ll bring back memories for me…thanks.

  3. Aimee Says:

    Wow, Ruth! Now I am so intrigued. I can’t wait to read it. What a wonderful title. And I love the photograph…

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