On Saturday morning, I was bemoaning the fact that I had nothing (good) to wear, and Paul was bemoaning the fact that every single pair of his jeans has a hole in the crotch. (I have no idea how this is even possible, but I don’t care to delve into this mystery any further.)
“What I wish,” I said, “is that I had a rich friend with good taste who was exactly my size, who would every now and then give me a pile of clothes and say, here, take what you want.”
Since that didn’t seem likely to happen any time soon, we did what (apparently) every other Seattlite does on a rainy Saturday: we went to the Goodwill.
It’s easy to see why Macklemore sang about the thrift shops in Seattle because they are cleaner, better organized, and better stocked here than anywhere else in the country. I browsed in the “Fashion Focus” section and found a brand name denim blouse. In the sweaters I picked out a random houndstooth jacket. What I like about the thrift store is that I can find things I would have never thought to buy on my own at a regular store, but when they are presented to me in an over-stuffed rack and given a price tag of $5.99, I’m suddenly interested in making them part of my wardrobe.
The line for the dressing room was six people deep, so when it was our turn, Paul and I went in together to try to speed things along but were yelled at by an angry Goodwill employee wearing a leopard-print headscarf. “Only one peoples at a time!” she admonished, rapping loudly on the door.
I emerged sheepishly. As if we were going to get randy in the Goodwill dressing room. Meanwhile, in the adjacent room, a slow-moving woman was trying on an entire shopping cart full of clothes when the sign clearly said only five items at a time.
“There’s no sign,” Paul noted, “that says only one peoples at a time.”
After the Goodwill, we saw an estate sale and made an impromptu stop. We wandered through the rooms of a modest ranch house, examining costume jewelry and dishes and ceramic figurines. One small bedroom was filled with Betty Boop collectibles: towels, t-shirts, key chains, wrist watches. In the basement were neatly organized holiday shelves: Christmas, Halloween, Easter. Paul examined a pile of ammo. There was a rusted old pick-up truck for sale in the driveway.
“Wow. She had quite the collection of Easter bunnies,” I said. “Or, I mean, whoever had quite the collection.” In meandering through the house, I’d already begun to assume things about the deceased owner. I imagined her to be a slightly overweight woman who wore red lipstick and glitzy brooches. Her husband had died years before, but she’d never had the heart to get rid of his truck, or the bullets to his old shotgun. Due to the Whitesnake and Aerosmith posters in the basement, I imagined a son who had lived in the house as a teenager. She had fixed him breakfast every morning, serving him scrambled eggs on one of the white plates with the blue trim.
“It’s weird,” Paul whispered to me, “to be looking through someone’s stuff like this. What they decided to keep after all these years.”
“I know. We’re looking at someone’s life.” Not only that, I thought. We’re taking some of their life for our own. Paul asked about fountain pens, and I bought a box of stationary, and then we headed home.
“I like estate sales,” I said in the car, “because you might not be looking for anything in particular, but then you find something weird or random or awesome that you would have never bought for yourself, but somehow it’s perfect.”
“Yeah,” he agreed. “We should go to more.”
At home, I read a few stories from the current issue of Carve Magazine since I am going to be writing some guest blog posts for them over the next few months. One of the stories, Eminence by Caroline Casper, stuck out to me in particular. It starts like this: We once had to make a list of all the things we didn’t remember. At first this assignment stumped us….But then we started writing and lost track of where we were.
What an interesting writing assignment, I thought. I considered writing a story about being born. Or maybe a poem about how all the dreams I’ve had and forgotten have actually come true, in a way, and I’ll never even realize it.
It wasn’t the story of Eminence that impressed me, but the way it was told. There were a lot of lines I liked because they sounded so poetic and wise. I wished I had thought of them myself.
Maybe it was because I had been to the thrift store and the estate sale earlier, but I was in the mood to forage through other people’s things. I sifted through the story like it was an overstuffed rack of clothing. I found phrases I liked and took them for my own, creating the found poem below.
In a way, literature is my rich friend with good taste who is always dumping piles of things on my bed, saying, “here, I’m done with these. Take what you want.”
So I take the words and make them my own.
Writing Exercises You Can Take from this Blog:
#1 Make a list of all the things you don’t remember. Pick one and write a story about it.
#2 Go to an estate sale. Make a list of interesting items you see. Go home and make up a story about the person who owned these items.
#3 Read a story and pick out your favorite words and phrases. Organize them into a poem. For an example, see the poem below.
A List of Things We Don’t Remember
A found poem from “Eminence” by Caroline Casper
Our lists were long.
I wrote about a tornado,
I told the story backwards,
Unraveling from memory.
Like a countdown,
Starting at the end.
Violent wind, a funnel cloud hit the ground.
The final days of life, the ultimate countdown.
It sounded like a train coming,
Twenty miles left to go.
We already know how it ends.
Watching someone let go,
Seeing hands unclench for the first time.
Tornado weather. Too humid, too still.
As more time passed, you’d go back, too.
You’d go back for your mother,
Trying to remember the answers, the sound of them.
When we know exactly how much time is left,
We pay better attention.
It’s easier to wait in front of the microwave than the stove.