Somebody had to sort through Grandma’s boxes. She was still kicking—in fact, had played a rippling “Happy Birthday” to herself on the piano the evening before at her 100th celebration. Women born in Iowa at the turn of the century have as much spunk for life as the chickens she once chased in the yard for dinner. But Grandma’s nursing home room didn’t have much space, and boxes were taking over dad’s garage.
Any moment not writing (or thinking about writing) is a moment wasted. My twin sister shares this passion, and we balked at the task. Mounds of hand-crocheted doilies in the puke-orange color Grandma favored were no heirloom. These things had already been picked over; no muses here. Travel memorabilia filled the last box: A small velvet bag filled with fool’s gold. Puzzle books for boring hours. A jar labeled with Japanese characters. Hmm . . . inside, an odd-shaped thing floated in a dark liquid. An oyster shell. Could there be a pearl inside? It would probably stink, but we cracked it open. A pearl, perfect in every way nestled inside.
For several decades after its purchase, Grandma never enjoyed her pearl. Did she forget she had it? As writers, we sift through reams of ideas, mostly junk. What covers up the pearls in our writing? Brilliant brainstorms get layered with detritus of new projects and mundane chores. What nuggets can we glean from panning the stream, perhaps from a new spot? A different point of view or adding sensory details might be all that is needed to refresh a scene.
A hundred years at the computer might not do as much for your writing as visiting the setting of your story, joining your kids on a nature hike, or tasting ordinary food outdoors. Life experiences connect the dots sometimes more completely than Grandma’s puzzle book. In the thick of life—when the good, bad and ugly cram together—we could given the lens through which we find a shell and see a pearl.