Bi-weekly chatter about how looking closely at some of the most common expressions in everyday life can prompt new ways of thinking about our writing.
I went to hear Jeff Tweedy in conversation with Amanda Petrusich in Brooklyn. There was much to love about the event. Petrusich’s thoughtful questions doubled as poetry and Tweedy’s responses arrived in song—literally and figuratively. The crowd was open, enthused and very much into music. It was a good place to be for an hour and change on a Monday night in November.
At one point during the conversation, Petrusich offered to the listeners a passage from Tweedy’s new book, World Within A Song:
“Leaving a briefcase containing our entire tour’s net income under a table at a truck stop Burger King in Germany. Discovering this fact an hour after we’d gotten back on the autobahn.
Returning two hours after we had left and finding it again in the exact same spot where we left it. Eating again.
There’s so much curiosity those tiny recollections or “rememories” as Tweedy calls them. These “dreamlike passages recounting specific events in my life” are scattered throughout the book. By the way, tossing out scattered episodic flashes onto a page is an approach I happen to love. Some serve as “palate cleansers” between the chapters which are really stories about specific songs that transformed Tweedy’s life, in one way or another.
But back to Germany and Burger King and the briefcase: How much was in it? Who was supposed to carry it out and, ultimately, forgot? When they realized they did not have it, did they think it was lost? Or just left behind? Or both?
My kids are twenty-nine, twenty-seven, twenty-five and twenty-two. So, I spend a lot of time thinking about parenting twentysomethings. All six of us don’t live under the same roof anymore though we do still have a Lost and Found, which is kind of a throwback to school days. (By the way, look out and take cover if you see me in a grocery store the day before they will all be home for a weekend. I’m the lady stocking up on the favorite cereals, the super-size laundry detergent, plus buying four kinds of milk for one pot of morning coffee.)
Our Lost and Found is in the front hall that’s not really a hall at all but more of a square patch of tile bordering our front door. Either side is lined with shoes, boots, a yoga mat (or two) and several cans of used tennis balls. There’s a coat rack in the corner of that square. It’s black iron, a little off balance, holds mostly old tote bags and maybe one coat. Under that rack is a wicker basket. That’s the Lost and Found. The last time I checked there were a few baseball cards, a burgundy fanny pack with a pack of Trident inside and a pair of shoes that fit no one who lives here or has lived here at some point along the way.
In other words, it’s a basket of stuff we found that we haven’t yet recycled or trashed. A basket of other people’s losses and our finds.
A basket of haphazard. A basket of questions. A basket of idiosyncrasies.
And what about our pages? Our filled-up-with-words ones and blank ones, too? How do things lost and found—memories, words, songs, encounters, dreams—come to land in our stories?
Mining the memories helps. Honoring them giving them a space—maybe even a basket of their own—is an act of service. Once those memories get shaped and storied by the shaper, the storyteller (aka the writer) and offered up to the reader, relationships ignite. A service is completed.
Idea meets paper, writer meets reader, reader meets self. Again and again and again.
Another Tweedy line from the new book, about including snapshots of thought in his work, amplifies the power finding memories and seeing their power:
“But I also included them to illustrate how my deep immersion in music has shaped how I really think and remember things in “song-sized” thoughts and shapes.
And how important it is to allow the things we love the most—the things we’ve contemplated the most thoughtfully and with the most empathy and compassion—to guide our hand when we’re stumped.”
Here are some Lost and Found prompts to use if you’re ready and ripe to write:
- What kind of container holds your memories? In your mind and/or heart, is it a basket, a clear glass cookie jar or a tin can, one that held cookies or potato chips in another lifetime? Are they stuffed inside a soft, squishy teddy bear?
- Write the story of losing something valuable. Then finding it.
- Write about a day that contained unexpected haphazard moments and idiosyncratic encounters.
- Write about a song that has never left your side.
Sometimes we lose, sometimes we find. Then hopefully, with a little help from our muse and some writing prompts, memories surface. Add a perfectly balanced combination of great songs, good coffee, and a big bowl of Apple Jacks, then the surfacing memories may begin to flow and swirl, freely. Boldly. Soon enough so will the pen on the page.
Postscript: I still want to know more about that German Burger King and the found briefcase!