Simulacrum of a Thing

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I am reading Anne Lamott’s book, Bird by Bird, and she has a chapter about index cards and their usefulness. Until I came to that chapter, I hadn’t realized what an addiction I have to those little 4 x 6 cards. Like a certain credit card, I never leave home without at least one. Usually, I keep a bunch in my purse to capture any stray thoughts I might have as I travel around town. But never fear, I don’t write and drive; I wait for the traffic light to turn red.

We all know that if we don’t jot something down as soon as possible after it hits our brain, most likely it will be gone forever. Only the thought doesn’t go away completely. Part of it stays in the back of your mind, on the tip of your tongue, a simulacrum of a thing that will neither fade away nor come back in full force. It remains there to torture you while you berate yourself. Why didn’t I write that brilliant thought down?

I’m reminded of how, for several days, I turned the house upside down looking for the left over index cards from my youngest daughter’s high school years. I knew I had them somewhere. I could literally visualize them, all that neat white space waiting to be filled. But they eluded me. It was like looking for that last bottle of liquor in the movie The Lost Weekend. Only I didn’t have to steal my cleaning lady’s money to go out and buy a fix. Mainly because I don’t have a cleaning lady.

This incident occurred a couple of years ago when I finally started writing seriously or seriously writing. After I bought a new packet of index cards, I found the lost ones lying neatly on a bookshelf. Now, I am never without those trusty little cards. Like reading glasses, I have some in practically every room of the house. Besides my purse, they live in my bedside drawer. As sometimes happens, I’ll come to in the middle of the night with passages going through my head. Quickly, I snap on the light, grab a pen and lash the thought down before it floats away. Or at the very least, the essence of it.

Index cards make my favorite bookmarks. Not only do they hold the place in the books I’m reading, but they afford me the space to write down any thoughts or ideas my reading conjures up. And when I come across something profound or motivational, or both, I copy it onto a card and tape it to my desk, so that it’s right in front of me as I work.

They serve me in my other work as well, as quilting aids. Once I decide what a quilt will look like, I record on separate cards how many pieces of each fabric I need to cut and in what dimensions. I then tape the cards to the wall alongside my sewing table, a ready reference as I construct a quilt puzzle comprised of hundreds of pieces.

Once while in the lab chair waiting for the vampire to strike, I noticed they had new wall art. It was a piece constructed of luminous metal squares in browns and greens. As my blood flowed into the lab tubes, the image of it as a quilt flowed into my brain. Holding my left arm bent at the elbow, I rushed out of the lab to my car where I sat sketching it out. It will make a great quilt. Someday.

One fun thing I use the cards for is to write my granddaughter’s name in great big letters. “I want paper,” she says to me when she sees me at my desk, “I want to make an A.” At three, she is ready to learn how to write her name and I pronounce each letter slowly as I write it all in caps across the top of a card, A-L-Y-S-S-A. Her face lights up as pen in hand she sits down to her task, forming the A with care.  When she goes home she leaves me the gift of her scribbles. Maybe one day she’ll be a writer, too.

The cards are also handy to make myself notes about foods to try, their benefits and nutritional value, especially those with anti-inflammatory aspects. I am always on the lookout for foods that will help me combat RA and keep my weight at tolerable levels. I figure if I write them down, I might remember to buy these foods when I go grocery shopping. Because of course, making a grocery list is the one thing I don’t ever use my cards for!

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