Diamonds in the Streets, and Why I Love Them

“Paper Sun,” by Elinore Hollinshead

Many artists are like crows. You know, the big black ones that scavenge objects out of fields. We have a habit of finding little moments in time, little word droppings, a marble stone, a funny twig, that we love as if they were diamonds. And we scarf them away for use later on, in stories or visual art that we may not have even imagined at the time.

You can see this so clearly in the painting I’m picturing here, by Elinore Hollinshead, which is called “Paper Sun.” In it, my dear friend Ellie has used lines of poetry, a glass marble, pearls and “gems” from the sea. They dazzle me when I look up from my laptop.

I have another artist friend, Diana Jensen, who’s found photos of people she’s never met, in places that she may not have ever visited. They’ve become inspiration for her paintings. I’m particularly fond of her work based on photos that she discovered in a thrift store: one person’s memories of the New Orleans World Fair.

As I venture through the streets of New York and elsewhere, passing by people, visiting certain places, I catch stray sentences that I don’t want to forget. A few years ago, I started to jot down these unintended gifts from strangers, thinking that at some point, they might combine into a compelling poem, or make for interesting dialog in a piece of prose.

Here are a few from my collection, most of which I’ve used in one piece of writing or another.

From two gentlemen walking through Harlem like police detectives: “We’ve got some heavy perfume around here. Ladies perfume.”

Two younger guys, ruminating about the opposite sex: “Oh, women like babies. Believe me.”

At the YMCA, women friends giving each other advice: “Locker room therapy is real.”

Another YMCA conversation: “She never brushes the back of her hair, just what she can see front wise in the mirror. It sticks out all over the place.”

Dude on 134th Street: “She uglier than my grandma’s wig.”

Chirpy voice at my Aunt Martha’s memorial service: “Well, hello! I haven’t seen you since the cemetery last year!”

Two hipsters in midtown Manhattan: “We had a good experience. It was very dystopian.”

In my novel, THE JUICE, I’ve used some word droppings from my husband, David. He’s sometimes said, “I wouldn’t throw her out of bed for eating crackers.” He tells me that was something he heard; it isn’t original to him. But I loved it, and it was perfect for my highly charismatic, gorgeous character Dove — as was David’s line: “Don’t fry fish in the nude,” which may be something he’s learned personally.

I’ll always be humbled by the kindness of strangers. And I so adore what nature and humanity offer artists, free of charge, if we’re only open enough to discover it.

Leave a Comment