On Moldy Moleskines and Old Memories
a writing prompt + Oct. Writing Hour + a webinar on writing & grief
Welcome to Writing in Company. Each week I share some words and a writing prompt, meant to be jumping-off points for you to write about what matters. Use the prompts however you like—to journal, to draft thoughts for your own writing project, as meditation or prayer ideas, or for another creative endeavor. If this one doesn’t resonate, take a look back through the archive for one that does. Grab your pen and paper, and let your words loose on the page.
It was a perfectly good Moleskine notebook, still in the shrinkwrap, sitting there alone on the Staples clearance shelf. How could I pass it up? Even though my usual go-to is a cheap composition notebook, sometimes a more expensive one—in a deep teal-blue with an elastic band—is just the thing.
I stashed it away until earlier this week when I began to make some notes for a new project. I opened to the second page of the notebook, and started writing—because who starts on the very first page? As I finished one page and turned to the next, the lined paper moved through the air and I caught a whiff of something sharp and tangy. As my daughter does with every book she reads, I brought the notebook up to my nose and inhaled.
Ugh. Moldy paper smell. I can taste it on my tongue.
The notebook went into the recycle bin (along with my newly written words) and a memory rushed in.
I’m twenty-three and driving in the dark, looking for a dumpster. Beside me on the passenger seat is a cardboard box full of letters, notes, and journals. Most are from high school. A few even older. I had retrieved the box from my childhood bedroom when I was last home, wanting my words and adolescent secrets safe with me alone. Somehow the box had gotten wet, either on the trip between Florida and Virginia, or after as it languished in my car. One journal’s pages rippled from the damp. Blue ballpointed addresses on a stack of letters smeared and ran. Postcards stuck together. A moldy smell—that same tangy taste—rose from the box, permeating my car.
I wrestled with myself over my plan to ditch the box with its cargo. I was mostly ready to let it go. It stunk, literally. Some of its contents were unreadable, either from water damage or from the inherent cringe factor. Tossing it would mean a fresh start. A clean break and a cleaner car. A chance to rid myself of a moldy mess.
The words in my journals and the detritus and ephemera from school and camp and jobs and friends—those were pieces of my history. My story. My memoirist impulse now has me whispering: “Think about it, Julie” as I watch myself park behind the graduate school dorm. Could those memories really just be tossed out?
It turns out the answer is yes. The dumpster was half empty. The box fit through the screeching door. My car immediately smelled better. I drove off lighter.
I’ve learned that I don’t have to keep an object to remember it and write about it. Something else entirely unrelated can bring it back. A moldy Moleskine notebook from the clearance shelf can transport us right back to a place, a time, a smell, a memory—and our writing about it will show us what we need to know—or at least get us started.
a writing prompt
What about you? What object/s have you willingly let go of, but still want to write about?
Make a list, then pick one and write more about it.
What were the circumstances of letting go? What does the object say to you now?
October Writing Hour - this Saturday, October 28 at 4 pm Eastern
My next live writing hour on Zoom for paid subscribers is this Saturday at 4 pm Eastern. If you want to write in company with others, you are welcome to join us. You can upgrade your subscription for a month ($7) just to try it. A separate email to paid subscribers will go out with the link, or you can find it on my Substack tab called Writing Hours. Let’s write together.
a November webinar on writing and grief
With individual and collective grief thick in the air, it’s timely to invite you to this upcoming webinar. For an hour on November 16th, I’ll be in conversation with Teri Ott, the editor and publisher of The Presbyterian Outlook about using writing as a way to carry grief. There will be some writing time, too. Whether you are in a new season of grief, are long-acquainted, or want to add to your toolbox of spiritual practices, you are welcome. There is a minimal cost for individuals or groups to help support the faithful work of the Outlook.
Find out more and register here:
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