I’m thinking a lot about “used” things today, partially because of Lia Purpura’s great essay on sadness, “Try Our Delicious Pizza” but also because I just bought my wedding dress, new but not brand new since I bought it off the rack.
I revel in used things – the copy of Death Comes for the Archbishop that I bought at a library book sale and opened to find a Willa Cather stamp inside, the green sweatshirt that I took from my brother’s closet and whose front pocket is tearing away, Honey the Hyundai with her rain guards and peeling bumper to remind me of her previous owner’s commute to Voice of America every day.
Used things carry stories.
Stories are used things.
The axioms about the sun and newness, the arguments that frustrated writers tout about how “it’s all been done.” These don’t worry me because I know that the stories need to be heard again – with just that inflection, just that accent, just that tear – the ones that only you or you or I or you can give.
I tell P the story of my mom’s childhood neighbor – a big, teenager whose mother said every time he left the house, “Put your little jacket on Joey.” I mimic Mom’s sing-song imitation, and I change it in the telling even as I reinforce its line in the world. My unaboriginal songline.
As I sit at this desk that my grandfather gave me when I was in high school, as I remember the cat scratches that Mom and I took out when we refinished it, as I recall my horror when I saw this desk on Antiques Roadshow and realized that our refinishing had ruined the value, I breathe deep story. Nothing new. Nothing fresh.
But all sparkling like beads on a wedding dress.
As a writer, does originality or “newness” worry you in your work? As a reader, what stories do you love to hear over and over again?