“From Wallet To Typewriter, The Effects Of Sylvia Plath Are Now For Sale” This article by Rebecca Rego Barry about Sylvia Plath caught my eye for two reasons: I’ve been fascinated with Plath as an author ever since I read The Bell Jar. What influences authors often gives me a great writing prompt. I know I’ll never get any personal items of famous people. Wait. I do have an autographed photo of the Beatles from their Forest Hills concert in 1965. But that’s mine and will never go to auction. I digress.
What would Sylvia Plath have kept in her wallet? Why the recipe for veal? And there’s the answer in the margin: “Ted likes this.”
Here’s the writing prompt. Emptying my wallet and looking at each item was like viewing one of those collections that Facebook puts together as a service to remind me what’s happened in my life. I admit curiosity at what seems an arbitrary choice of what’s Facebook-worthy. But rather than complain, I can revise it and create another device to garner what’s been important to me. The wallet will more than suffice. How many of those cards, photos, and scraps in my wallet are seeds for stories? Well, just about all of them.
The stories I carry. The five-dollar bill folded three times and tucked, not in the billfold but in a side pocket, a remnant of my father’s advice to always carry five dollars and a dime with me at all times. Five dollars would do it decades ago. I remember him showing me the five-dollar bill he had folded in his wallet and how serious he was. “You’ll always be able to take care of yourself; to get help if you need it.”
But the story that shifted to the foreground was the three years in my life when I did not have even $5 and had to scrounge around my apartment or in the penny jar to get $1.00 in change. Why? When? Where was I? How did it feel? Was this a public or private episode in my life? I’m ready to write that story. But am I ready to share that story?
Here’s the ‘gift’ card from Guadalajara Restaurant for $5 (coincidently). Must be six years old. No expiration date. Wonder if I can still use it. It’s so old; why is it still in my wallet? It’s a reminder of the friend I was with when we ate there, and the sad fact that he is no longer actively in my life. I don’t know where he lives, how or what he’s doing, but I get a text message every year wishing me a happy birthday and I send one to him. Couldn’t that mean we are still actively friends?
The battered penny I found recently in a parking lot. It’s pockmarked like it has been drilled with a micro hand drill. An edge of the penny is tissue paper thin. “Find a penny pick it up; all day long you’ll have good luck.” Sure it’s a line from Grease, but my story will be how my older sister looks just as delighted with the find now as she did when we were kids.
And then there’s the ever-growing stack of photos of my beloved and me, and my sisters. I just can’t seem to discard the old black and white one of my Finn and me, and so squeeze it in with each new one in the photo slot.
Make it a group prompt. Teachers are infamous for having a storehouse and treasure chest of things in wallets and handbags. My colleagues and I at Washington School (about twenty years ago) often played Let’s Make a Deal with one of us being Monty Hall. Most of us usually had a piece of chalk (this was before whiteboards). We all had Band-Aids, safety pins, gum, lifesavers, and gold star or heart stickers. The all-time prize went to J.W. who carried a spray can of Lysol. Instant winner.
Adaptations to the “look in your wallet” prompt. If you’re stuck for a writing idea, look in your wallet, or purse. Or have a friend share what’s in their wallet and why. Look in that junk drawer; look in the glove compartment of your car. Does anyone really keep gloves in there? And why is it sometimes called a jockey box? Grist for the mill for another blog.
Take one item. Where did you get it? When? Why? What makes you keep it? Follow the train of thought and write your story. Make it fiction, non-fiction, a fantasy, a mystery.
What’s in your wallet?
Ethel Lee-Miller blogs regularly about people, the power of words, and the writing life. She is the author of Thinking of Miller Place, and Seedlings, Stories of Relationships.