The Pawnshop, the Ring and the Book

Not the epic poem, the Ring and the Book, made famous by Robert Browning, just a minor event that might become the plot of a novel one day.

It all began in a pawnshop.  I was in Colorado last week, spending a few days in a small town situated in the Wet Mountain Valley, between the Sangre de Cristo Range and the Wet Mountains. While walking down a main street (actually, the only main street), I went into a several small shops that carried Native American jewelry, mostly silver and turquoise. Some of it was lovely, but I wanted something different, with a narrow band–the kind of ring that is so comfortable you forget you are wearing it–that would translate when I wasn’t in a pair of boots–or in the American southwest.

My companion wanted to buy a ring for my birthday; I told him that was a great idea. The only problem was the few rings I liked were too large. Then, I saw the pawnshop across the street. There, the proprietor produced several trays of rings, mostly diamond engagement rings, wedding band, or rings with sparkly, colored stones. And, of course, turquoise set in wide, silver bands.

Tucked into the corner of a black velvet tray, almost invisible with it’s black stone and narrow band, was a vintage ring, clearly Native American workmanship, with an oval onyx nestled next to a delicately crafted silver leaf. Could it possibly fit? It did. Perfectly! I was almost giddy, and not from the 8,000 foot altitude of the town.

The proprietor said it was a consignment. I hope that whoever sold it, or once wore it, liked it as much as I do. When I wear it, I’ll think of the unknown artisan who made it–and take care of it for the person who wore it before me.

You may be wondering what this can possibly have to do with writing.

I used to think that it was important to constantly study the market, follow sales figures, be alert to trends, peruse best sellers, and keep up with celebrity authors. That can still be helpful if your work falls into a popular category or has the potential of being the next big hit, but what if you are writing just because you like to write. What if writing is therapy for you, like painting or hiking is for someone else? What about the “little” books, the simple stories, the observational poems. Those moments of inspiration that are “comfortable” to wear.

I don’t imagine anyone will ever look closely at my small ring and remark on it, if it is noticed at all. But, someone cared about it when they created it, and I will enjoy it when I wear it. Why should writing be any different?

Can’t a story, a book, or a poem simply mirror the inventive urge of its creator? Isn’t it enough that someone will take pleasure from reading it?  When we find a piece of poetry or prose we like, do we care how many copies it may have sold? Maybe, sometimes, we should write just to write; share just to share; create just to give substance to an idea.

And Browning? He found a soiled, yellow book while casually rummaging through a stack of old books at a flea market. He was intrigued by the contents that detailed a murder trial and thought it might be a good basis for a poem, but let in languish for four years, even offering it to other writers. Then, magically, he produced a 21,000 line poem that still has scholars scrambling.