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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Bucket

I have a bucket that I carry with me wherever I go. I collect things in it, hour by hour, day by day. Some of the things are ordinary like a piece of string or a broken watch, but other things are quite unexpected, like love letter or the lens of a telescope.

Yesterday I found a thumb tack on the bottom of my shoe; it went in the bucket, along with three dried chips of turquoise paint and an empty Coke bottle. While in the shower a bright yellow frog appeared by the open window, and I would have put it in too, but I left my bucket in the car, and by the time I fetched it, the frog was gone.

You have to be quick.

Often I will steal things, usually from my closest friends. They’ll be talking and a little golden coin will drop out of their mouth and tinkle on the floor. I’ll snatch it up when they aren’t looking and then call it my own. I don’t feel bad about it because they do the same thing to me. Just the other morning I spied a little porcelain bird that a friend had copped from my pail and had put into hers. I think she felt guilty, but I didn’t mind; in fact, I was glad that she could use it. I just couldn’t find a place for it anywhere, and it suited her collection perfectly.

I know people who leave their bucket at home most of the time, only taking it out when they think they need something. Of course, after just a few hours of searching they get bored or frustrated about not finding the thing they were looking for, so they put the bucket away. What they don’t realize is that you have to keep your bucket at all times and you can’t be so picky about what you collect.

Me, I’ll pick up anything.

Some people like fancy buckets made of tin, old-fashioned buckets made of wood, or electric buckets with flashing lights, but I’ll use whatever is handy. The container isn’t as important as the things you collect. You can use a cereal bowl or discarded Starbucks coffee cup, or even your pocket in a pinch. The mistake is to see something and tell yourself, “I’ll get that later, when I have more time,” because as soon as you turn your eyes away (from the bronze nail, the dead caterpillar, the silk yarmulke) it will disappear. You’ll never find it again.

Recently I’ve gotten in the habit of getting up very early and meeting friends at coffee houses. They bring their buckets too, and together we sort and sift and show each other what we’ve found. Often we trade: a rusty license plate for a silver toothpick, a rubber ball for scrap of shag carpet. It’s fun to share.

But most of the work I do alone, dumping out the contents of my bucket and deciding what to use, what to throw out and what to save for later. It’s really amazing what turns up if you keep your eyes open and you make sure to have your bucket with you.

For instance, while driving in my car, my cousin appeared in the passenger seat - not as she is now, a middle-aged mother of two, but as a child with fiery red hair and a doll that was missing its left eye. I didn’t know why or how she appeared, but I didn’t ask questions. I just collected her and her doll in the bucket as soon as I reached a red light, keeping an eye on her in my peripheral vision to be sure she wouldn’t vanish.

I sometimes put expressions in the bucket, like “posilutely splificated.” I put sounds in the bucket, like the popping of bubble wrap or the giggle of a barista. I collect attitudes, poses and gesticulations. I gather confusion and doubt. I pick up itches, headaches and ennui. I take things I don’t believe in, like ghosts or trickle down economics. It’s important not to be judgmental, and accept whatever appears in your path. Anything.

Do I sound crazy to you?

Well, if you haven’t guessed, I’ll tell you that the “bucket” is just my notebook. And the things I find are seeds: seeds for writing, seeds for filmmaking, seeds for acting, seeds for understanding, seeds for meaning. If you are an artist or creative person, you need to have a bucket, you need to take it with you everywhere, and you need to collect whatever you find. Whatever idea flashes in your head, write it down. Anything and everything.

Just put it in your bucket – it may look dusty and ordinary, but you may discover something rare and beautiful in it later. Don’t wait. Do it now. Right now.

Before it disappears forever...