by Jennifer Paros

When I was around the age of seven, I was in my room writing one day.  It was not something I had to write for school; I just wanted to write a story.  I sat at my desk with paper in front of me and then I stood at my desk with paper in front of me, and then I started to walk around my room.  Apparently, I didn’t know what I wanted to write, but I knew I wanted to write. 

At one point, I walked over to my bureau, which was fairly tall. I peered over the ledge. Here is where I kept all sorts of small, decorative figurines that I had collected for a long time.  I had some tiny china kittens with an overturned bucket with “spilled” milk.  Some of the kittens were posed so they could drink the milk and some of them were sitting up; there was also a mother cat lying nearby that went with the set.  I had some stuffed furry mice dressed in outfits – one had a kerchief on its head and carried a basket, I believe; an Indian Girl Doll (Native American) with a papoose and pigtailed hair that had come unglued (like a dislodged wig) and periodically shifted position to reveal her bald head.  

There was, what I considered at the time, a very expensive Israeli doll (I had paid seven dollars for her with my own money) with a silky, light blue dress, crinoline, and blinking eyes. And there were small wooden grasshoppers each playing a different instrument, standing around in an ensemble, which I had arranged. But then, I had collected and specifically and purposefully arranged everything on that dresser.  In each section, there was a story happening.  Each object had an idea and feeling, and always implied at least the beginning of a narrative, more often than not, purposefully cultivated by me. 

My eyes scanned the different scenes and came upon the five-inch wooden cat that had caught a mouse by its leather tail.  I looked at that cat and thought of how the cat could be a magiccat with special powers, and then it occurred to me – and I remember thinking this distinctly – that writing is like magic because you can make anything be what you want it to be.  

The question is: What do you want it to be? 

I still look around and am amazed at how packed everything is – every person, every object, every space, and every experience –

with story.  The trick is to select out that which resonates and best serves the development of what most compels me.  

And over the years, since having packed away the world stationed on top of my bureau, I have developed another array of things I’ve purposefully, and sometimes not-so-purposefully, been collecting.  And by “things” I mean experience and people; things given me that I didn’t much want, and things I have loved since the day they arrived.  And when I look around me now, each object, person, and experience can easily become a portal (like my bureau collection) through which I can travel in order to convene with the story I am so wanting to write. 

We all have a collection.  And when we use our vision to see into all that is before us, that, I believe, can’t help but be a moment of inspiration.

Jennifer Paros is a writer, illustrator, and author of Violet Bing and the Grand House (Viking, 2007). She lives in Seattle.

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