I once owned a locket of no particular value. It might have been made out of tin with gold plating on top. And it was a little dented. But it was something my grandmother had cherished. Inside were tiny little photos of her parents, a dairy farmer and his wife who raised her in a tiny community called Meridale, in upstate New York.
The locket was so treasured. When I wore it, I felt closer to my grandmother, who had passed away at the time I came to own it. When the necklace was stolen during a burglary of my home, I was devastated. The thieves took other things, like electronic equipment. But the loss of them meant nothing, compared with that locket.
In the greater scheme of things, losing that little precious piece of jewelry is trivial. I think about the vast wave of people migrating around the world, escaping violence or starvation, leaving almost all their belongings behind.
In other realms, there was this week’s news that Russia is renewing its cybersecurity threat in the U.S. with a concerted effort to compromise databases with extremely sensitive information. Sinclair Broadcast Group, one of the most powerful media companies in America, is still recovering from a cyberattack that brought its operations to their knees a week ago.
The integrity of systems that keep sensitive material private is something I care deeply about—along with media companies in general. Those two topics, and the future of America, are at the heart of my dystopian sci-fi novel, THE JUICE.
And yet those little things, like lockets, do matter. Another example is tucked in my bedroom closet—a bright red suitcase once owned by my mother. The slender little case is very humble, very inexpensive. But it was just the right size for Mom to transport the small number of items she needed for a weekend family visit.
;I see the suitcase every day when I venture inside my bedroom closet wondering what incredible outfit I’ll put on for a day of writing by myself (ha ha). In recent weeks, I’ve thought about getting rid of it. After all, I need more space in the closet, and it hasn’t been used in years. There are plenty of other suitcases lying around, with more pockets, larger capacity. And never let it be said that I pack light.
But I can’t toss it.
Which is irrational, because I have so many lovely things that were once my mother’s, just as I have many elegant belongings that were my grandmother’s. But the locket (at one time) and the suitcase are ways of connecting to distant times and feeling the presence of two ladies who raised me, who are responsible for my very existence.
Recently, I started writing a new novel that’s a sequel to THE JUICE. And after quite some time trying to find the essence of a particular character, I actually began to feel him—to deeply sense who he is. His personality was surprising as it revealed itself.
He came to me in his own time, after much “teasing out” on my part. And that leads me to think that perhaps we don’t choose our mental portholes—both portholes that help us sense the spirits of beloved people who pass away and portholes that help us find the spirit of people who are conceived in our minds and pour out on the page.
Perhaps it’s the fantasy and sci-fi writer in me, but I think that, in a way, the portholes choose us.