We are in the midst of remodeling the bathroom (the only bathroom) in our house. Like anyone who owns an old home, I had my fears about this project — what horrors would we find with the plumbing or the electric or the subfloors or the joists or the structure. In fact, the first day of the project, every time the contractor came out to get something I assumed it was the time he was going to say, “Sir… we’ve gotta talk…” and then proceed to show me that the room was held together with toothpicks and superglue.
Thankfully, that conversation hasn’t happened (so far, though we’re almost done so I think we’re okay). What did happen, though, is that opening the walls, ceiling and flooring of the bathroom opened up a history that we had previously not known. It also opened up a set of possibilities for us to come up with some quite interesting stories about what we found.
First… there was the ladder. We opened up a wall which seemed from the outside to be just empty space. Inside, we found an old, wooden ladder. What is that ladder’s story? Why was it left in the wall? Was it there for safekeeping, locked away for “a rainy day”? Was it placed there absentmindedly and then ignored as the plasterboard was put up? Was it the only thing that was holding that portion of the house up at some point (goodness, I sure hope that isn’t the case!)?
Then there was the insulation. Apparently, the best insulation around was newspaper. As we touched it, it disintegrated immediately, turning into dust right in our fingers because, apparently, newspaper really isn’t all that good to use as insulation. I was able to gently pull one sheet of newspaper out of the ceiling and it stayed intact long enough for me to see the date — December 29, 1963. So, we learned that the last time this room had work done on it was 51 years ago. Imagine what we might have been able to discover about an era long ago had those newspapers been just a tiny bit more stable. We could have read the articles and learned about the local politics of the day, or the national and world news the local paper thought was important. What if every home used the ceilings and walls of its bathroom as a time capsule and through this method of archival a society’s entire history was recorded? Wouldn’t that be interesting?
Next, we found a wall full of razor blades. Now, this explained a few things for me, specifically why I would find random old, rusty razorblades in the basement every so often over the past twenty years. But more importantly, I learned something. I had not known that they used to put a slot in medicine cabinets into which old razors were discarded. Apparently, this was common and when you were done with the razor you would stick it in the slot and it would “magically disappear”. Well, now I know where the razors re-appeared. But imagine if such a technology did exist…stick your unwanted stuff in a slot and have it whisked magically away… perhaps re-appearing in a similar slot somewhere else where a person may need the item, or perhaps just falling away into a landfill (or my bathroom wall).
This remodeling job has provided the seeds for a lot of stories. Perhaps my 2014 NaNoWriMo novel has been waiting in the walls of that room for the past 51 years. We cleaned up everything we found there in those walls and we’ve sealed it up nice again, but I wonder if in another 51 years someone will open these same walls up and learn something new about life in 2014, or find a new set of stories to tell. The biggest thing this job has done for me creatively is reminded me once again that there are millions of stories to be told, all of them sitting there waiting to be discovered in the things we do and encounter everyday but don’t think twice about. So, what’s your every-day normal world telling you to write about today? I’d bet if you look carefully, you’ll find some really exciting stories to tell.