I think that many writers are magpies or perhaps squirrels in the way that we listen to things, read things and tuck them away for later. Often I have no idea how or when I will use something that I have seen or heard, but I stash it away mentally or physically if it is a book or an article. Sometimes I think that it may be useful. Other times it’s just something that I find interesting.
Months or years later it comes floating to the surface when you need it. Or perhaps the memory of having placed it somewhere comes to the surface and you spend hours trying to track it down. Right now it is particularly hard to find things in our house. I have a natural inclination towards messiness and adding building to the equation makes finding things almost impossible. This week I was trying to find my Anne of Green Gables series for Blithe Girl and I couldn’t find it anywhere. I know where it was until the point when I had to move things to make room for the clothes that had previously been stored in the laundry that has now been demolished. This morning I spent a good half hour searching for the floor cleaner because I had a clear picture in my mind of where it had been until demolition started, but no memory of where it might have been moved. Clearly I don’t mop my floor often enough.
I do however have a place where I put things related to my writing. It’s a clear plastic box with a difficult-to-open lid that is securely stored under my desk. Anything I want to keep that doesn’t otherwise get filed in the filing cabinet or already have a designated place gets stored in there. So far it has survived the depredations of children, mice, building and my own personal axis of chaos (or should that be axes of chaos?).
When I was writing this morning however, I needed the words of a German hymn and simply had to reach out a hand to pull out a copy of a hymnal. When we were in the United States we stumbled across a wonderful Mennonite Church in Saint Paul. It managed to be both simple and sophisticated in faith and worship. Most of its members had travelled and worked widely yet they held to an ideal of a simple life and faith. Burnt by our experiences of the politicisation of American evangelicals (here read right-wing attitudes) we felt at home in this congregation. One of the mementoes of that time is the Hymnal: A worship book, sub-titled “Prepared by Churches in the Believers Church Tradition.”
Many Mennonites still understand or read German even if they don’t speak it and the hymnal is full of wonderful old hymns brought from Germany. Looking for the right hymn was simply a matter of leafing through the book, finding an appropriate title, checking the words and checking the date of publication. Anything dated before 1900 could easily have been sung by a Protestant German, even if they weren’t Mennonite. For once things went smoothly and one of my characters was able to be musically farewelled.