A piece of history was set to be put out for the garbage if we didn’t come pick it up, this giant music box handmade in the 1920s right here in my state. My husband and his dad drove 20 hours round-trip through swarms of cicadas to bring it home.

We had hopes for curing its tone-deafness, to tighten the strings to perfect pitch, but one look at the piano and our tuner friend said it was no use.

So, we gave in and opened the upright grand to hollow it out and make room for my keyboard. Hinges creaked and the smell of history rose up, the aroma of old wood soaked in with years of smoke from burned dinners and moisture from flooded cellars.

We loosened the yellowed keys and the felted hammers and pulled them out one by one. We plucked tired strings on the heavy harp. Inside, tucked between keys or hiding in the cavity behind the damper and sustain, there was treasure, an accidental collection of items: a 1930s postcard swirled with fancy cursive, a tiny green pencil with hardened eraser, old coins and a matchbox car with chipped paint.

When I came across Real Simple’s article “Lost and Found” a few weeks ago, I started wishing I’d kept the little collection discovered on the inside of the piano. It’s art really, the way some things group together on accident in natural time capsules.

Author Judith Stone tells of how writer’s block had her pacing in front of a dresser. In manic procrastination and avoidance, she opened a junk drawer full of random items from her travels.

There were “scraps of ornamental paper, a tea canister lacy with rust, baroque buttons, appealing shards of crockery, mate-less earrings too pretty to pitch, a Burmese candy wrapper.” She found herself turning over an old bamboo sushi box and gluing bits of memory to the back of the box. It turned out so pretty that she put it in a frame. She goes on, “Feeling strangely refreshed, I returned to my deadline work and finished it. Sticking stuff together had gotten me unstuck.”

In a bout of writer’s block in my first trimester of pregnancy earlier this fall (we’re due April 4 of next year!), I wanted to keep writing. But what could I write when every bit of energy was going to beginning that beautiful life and no ideas were flowing? Fatigue and nausea had me cratered in the couch.

I reached over to the coffee table and picked up Keri Smith’s How to Be an Explorer of the World”. From here? An explorer of the world? And then activity #1 gave me permission to write right where I was sitting.

With my pen, I took down an inventory of everything I saw on the floor: Elliot’s drawing of the spider version of himself. My husband’s high school marching band trumpet, dented and tarnished. The Swazi grass baskets that I didn’t even haggle for because they were such a good deal with my exchange rate. The replica of Rodin’s “Eve” that marks our time out spot. A lone drumstick. Toy train tracks. Dirt and crumbs. A balloon losing its helium. A houndstooth pillow from the couch. Two kitchen towels, makeshift blankets for Farah’s dolls. A Beatrix Potter book. Leather flip flops found as a pair…a rarity. The schoolboy’s backpack. A barrel hamper lugged downstairs by children in need of a pretend rabbit hole.

Just like we pulled the surprise collection out of the dust inside our old piano, I found a collection of curiosities right there in my living room. Even when I felt low like the balloon on the floor, life continued to happen around me (and in me). The fun went on even when I didn’t have the energy to guide it, and the floor inventory in my journal helps me remember that.

These accidental collages capture time and place and show us the art of the moment and the mess.

{Take down a written inventory of something ordinary in your environment: your floor, your bookshelf, your junk drawer. In the accidental collage, what theme or metaphor do you find coming together? What internal thoughts/feelings can you relate the collection to? Share your findings and any links in the comments below.}

This is Day 9 of my series 31 Days ~ Preserve Your Story, linking up with The Nester’s annual 31 Days of Change.

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