On my bookshelf there is a book of writing prompts. I did not buy this myself. It was a Valentine’s Day gift given by a former flame. Along with this she bought me a bookmark in the shape of the Loch Ness Monster and a pin badge in the shape of a typewriter which has the phrase: ‘You are my type’ for the keys. Evidently she was in a bookstore at the time and picked up whatever was at hand. I recall a distant memory where she was on a solo trip to Glasgow or Edinburgh and was spending a good portion of her time on trains and in train stations, so that might well be the case. My gift to her was a ticket to see some artist she was always raving about but whose name I never bothered to remember. In fact, it wasn’t a gift: she bought the ticket herself and demanded I give her the money for it. She had a habit of doing that. It’s why she’s an ex.
The bookmark has its uses. I juggle several books at once and it’s good to know that I can have five or six or seven open at any one time and have some kind of marker to indiciate where I am. I could simply remember what page I am on, of course, but that is a level of cognitive exercise I am not prepared to do. As of right now, Nessie is marking the spot of Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces. It’s on the chapter about Apotheosis, whatever that means, in the same location it has been for weeks. I keep opening it to begin, but when I read that first line, everything else in the world becomes more interesting. As for my other bookmarks, a proper one that is magnetic and clasps over the page and has an image of a compass with the phrase ’You Are Here’ is nestled in Lingua Latina. A business card of someone I met during my time volunteering with the Red Cross is in my translation of The Journey Through Wales, at the start of Part II where Gerald is talking nonsense about Merlin and the alleged ancient Archbishopric of Caerleon. (Attentive readers might wonder why I have a translation despite my stated aversion to them, in this blog: I have the Latin version too, bought during my studies, but I enjoy the footnotes of Lewis Thorpe’s translation far too much to throw it away. Gerald of Wales was, by all accounts, a monumental tool, and Thorpe’s commentary on the matter is a joy to read.) A blue index card containing some notes pertaining to an interview I had some time ago sits in my copy of Aboriginal Myths, Legends & Fables and my organ donor card (Sign up, people! You don’t need them where you’re going.) marks the last page I read of The Bell Jar. The bookmark for this last one is quite unnecessary as all the chapters are rewordings of the same concept: ‘I did something and I was sad and then I made a terrible simile and made a clunky switch to a flashback and then I was sad again’.
As for the pin badge, it is on my shelf somewhere. Possibly behind the astronaut USB miniature lamp that plugs into my laptop but is so bright that it feels like you are in a staring contest with Homelander, my collection of foreign coins including a Caribbean One Dollar coin that was handed over to me by someone thinking it was a fifty pence piece, a walnut with the goo-goo-googly eyes sitting in a deck chair and an old photograph taken of my last day of high school in which I am very skinny, in a way I never realised I was and will never be again.
I had not looked at the prompt book since receiving it, during which time I flicked through a few pages and read some of the prompts aloud. The ex is to blame for that: she put me off from using it when, on reading an entry, she said something along the lines of: ‘Stop reading them out to me, I really don’t care.’ You were the one who bought it, love—you knew what you were getting yourself into.
Until today, that is. For the first time since that Valentine’s Day some two, three, or four years ago by this point, I opened this prompt book. I opened it completely at random and the prompt was: ‘Describe the shape of your bed sheet’.
Okay: it’s brown and has squiggles on it.
What a stupid, useless gift that was. I’m glad we’re over.