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.
I so enjoy when my creative muse courts me with experience such as those you describe so eloquently in your post. It reminds me that there is so often extraordinary opportunities in the seemingly ordinary occurrences or our everyday lives. And even when those opportunities don’t pan out to be extraordinary, they can certainly be the motivation and inspiration for the words that spill out of our mind and on to the page. Thanks for sharing 😉
I find inspiration outside in the garden a lot, too. The plants that come up out of the ground looking very different from what they ultimately become (asparagus, for example, comes out looking like asparagus, but grows into 7+foot tall fern-like bushes. Or peonies… they start out a deep red color when they first come out of the ground, before turning green). Nature is pretty amazing when it comes to having a lot of inspirational stuff just sitting there waiting to be discovered amongst the mundane stuff.
Great article, Rob. I must say, I’ve never had that happen. I get lots of inspiration from my dog, though. Does that count?
I have found my dog and even my cats to be inspirational many times. Even the kids have been inspirations to me, though not always for good reasons…
I love reading this post. It gives so much inspiration to look around me and to start writing. Your place is a time capsule and so is the world around us, but discovering bits of that time capsule behind locked doors, secret hideaways or behind walls is just so exciting.
If I had the chance to time travel, I think I would always choose to go back rather than forward.
I’ve never been able to decide if I’d prefer to go back or forward if I could travel in time. I mean, I’d love to go way back and see how things were when society was just getting started. But I’d also love the chance to see where we are in 500 or 5000 years.
Oooh, now that ladder has my imagination running in all directions 😀
Yes, mine too! Potential story titles, potential plots, all kinds of things could jump from that ladder. I mean, how many times have I walked under it without even knowing it was there? How much bad luck has *that* banked up for me?
LOL I guess it depends on how many times there was a tin of paint hanging from the top of the ladder 😀
The razors in the slot! I remember those! (Yes, yes I am that old.)
In the old house we bought in New Jersey, my room was covered with wallpaper. Eighteen layers of wallpaper – florals, stripes, elaborate arabesque patterns in color combinations like aubergine with puce, or four shades of ashy pink with gray green accents, each paper extravaganza pasted over the next. I would peel off a layer and come to something that I loved, then beg my parents to “keep this one,” but they insisted that all of them come off. Eventually the walls were stripped of their paper heritage down to bare naked wall. Then they applied one sweet layer of sugar pink wall paper scattered with tiny white flowers. Resembled Swiss dot fabric and suited the six-year-old romantic who played dolls in that room.
Oh, and in the attic was a monumentally sized pendant lamp, sitting in a dust bowl on the floor. A bonafide Tiffany, whatever that was, composed of small glass shards intricately leaded together into a field of blooming flowers. My mom hated that also and gave it away.
The old house cached decades of history and mystery but only a bit remains in my memory. I guess that’s what writers are supposed to do: recreate the world.
Great article, Rob, so well written.
My attic is my kids’ rooms… there is one crawlspace I can get into and has stuff for storage, then there is another crawlspace we have no current way to access. I wonder if maybe that crawlspace is where the wad of cash is hidden…
This could be included in your treehouse mom story.
I remember an apartment I lived in right out of college with a pass-through for milk from the hallway. I was so naive, my mom had to tell me to lock it!
Now that’s a rich idea for a story!
Great story, Rob. You make me want to run to the copy shop, make color copies of a stack of $100 bills, and seal them in a Zip-Loc bag somewhere in the house for the next owner to find.