Old Scraps, New Stories

I’m a recycler. If I can re-use, repurpose, or rework, I will.

This is especially true with paper. Perhaps it’s due to the influence of my WWII-generation family members, who repurposed materials as a matter of course, or of my witnessing too many old black walnut trees die or be cut down, or simply of my appreciating the value of ink and paper from student days when I had to choose between groceries and school supplies.

The paper in my collection ranges from 3×5 note cards with storyboarded scenes from screenplays that have never seen the light of day, to notebooks filled with research for a turn-of-the-century sports biopic, to proof pages of work-for-hire projects about pirates or fairies or the moon. If I can reprint on the back side, great. If I can reuse the blank sides of notecards for another round of storyboarding, super. And if I can redraw new characters or new stories inspired by old research – golden.

These esoteric scraps have stories of their own. And many have stories yet to come. For my birthday this year, I received new evidence of this fact, in the form of a year-long collage class. In just the first few weeks, I’ve come to an even deeper way of looking at paper, of reusing it, and of celebrating these random bits that I can translate into completely new forms. My creations are strange mash-ups of mixed media. These scraps might be water-damaged photocopies of western landscapes or cut-out shapes from an old paperback of Nikolai Gogol’s Dead Souls or ripped pages from last year’s calendar.

Dream Catcher. Mixed media collage of fish-print wrapping paper, magazine scraps, water-damaged photocopied image, paperback book page, coin wrapper, envelope, and colored pencil. Monique Peterson, 2019.

The process has already informed my writing. In all the work there is a similar thread: story. As I place random scraps together to see what evolves, I still seek an entry and an exit for the eye – and so it is with writing. A single image, though two-dimensional, can still convey a past, a present, and a future; a sense of tension or drama; an atmosphere; an attitude. Even as I craft compositions from my scraps of paper, the images offer up characters, places, and stories that I’d like to develop further.

Suddenly, a fun scrap class has turned itself on its head for me and become an incubator for new stories. Definitely golden.

In the spirit of small bits leading to big ideas, we’ve been crafting Writing Snacks for the month of March. We’ve designed this series of quick random writing explorations as a way to break down barriers toward developing new ideas as well as to build up a practice for regular creative engagement. We invite you to see for yourself what a few scraps can do for the imagination. Click here to indulge in Writing Snacks and see what evolves.

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