The other night, in serious need of some writing inspiration, I picked up Julia Cameron’s The Sound of Paper. This book was J’s gift to me when I graduated from college, and it’s not an overstatement to say that it has changed my life. Julia, with her thoughtful, wise words on writing and the gently prodding exercises which accompany each essay, became a friend and creative companion, and I read and wrote my way through most of the exercises in this book as I sent out resumes and tried to figure out my life after college. (One of those exercises led to my first published article, and the beginning of my freelance career.)
It’s been a while since I’ve revisited The Sound of Paper (though Julia’s words, particularly about buds, continue to remind me, gently, that I’m not alone on this writer’s path). I decided to start going through the exercises again, and one of the first has (ostensibly) nothing to do with writing. Rather, the instructions are to gather a big pile of magazines, pull out any images that appeal to you, and make a collage with them.
I gathered my pile of Real Simple, Whole Living, Anthology and National Geographic (the standard and Traveler editions), spread out on the living-room rug, and began ripping, cutting, sorting and discarding, then arranging my finds and securing them with Scotch tape. I ended up with so many images I had to make the collage double-sided. Here’s the final product:
As I sat and looked at the collage, several things struck me:
First of all, this was fun. It’s been ages since I did anything with my hands that didn’t involve writing, cooking or knitting. How fun to play with pictures again like a kid, not to worry about white space or overlapping edges or whether anything “matched.” I chose an arrangement that pleased me, of course, but I wasn’t overly worried about how it would look.
This melange is part reality, part ideal – much like the Polyvore collages I see on others’ blogs, or the groupings of items on Pinterest, or the treasuries people make on Etsy. They’re partly things we have, and partly things we want. I own a couple of cute dresses and a few pieces of candy-colored cookware; I’ve certainly eaten my share of ice cream, gelato and sorbet this summer. But I’m longing for trips to exotic, peaceful locations, a neatly color-coded closet, a vintage typewriter, an adorable dog (maybe in our next house, when we have a backyard). Some of those things are out of reach right now, but some of them are probably closer than I think.
As a writer I’m always looking for themes, and there are several in this grouping: abundance (heirloom tomatoes and bright flowers, shelves of books and stacks of dishes); simplicity (clean lines, quiet black-and-white photos, wide blue skies with room to breathe); a bit of play (those puppies, enjoying the breeze, charm me utterly); and elegance (those dresses! Those red lips with chic sunglasses! That carafe of lemonade!). Again, it strikes me: these themes speak partly to the life I have, partly to the life I want.
The trick, as always, is how to get from here to there: how to transform the everyday grind into something charming and joyful, thoughtful and fun? How to take these images from the page and translate them into reality? Or how, more importantly, to learn to find the beauty in what I already have, the moments of abundance and simple joy and peace in my everyday?
It’s a question I’m always asking, and this collage only served to emphasize that. These photos don’t have any answers for me, of course, but it’ll be good to keep them around while I keep pondering – and writing.
What would be on your collage of wishes?
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