Collecting Experiences

August is proving that the Mysteristas collect more than we thought! We have such fun collections, too. As I prepared to write today’s post, I planned to write about my book collection. Building off Sarah’s post from earlier this month, I was going to write about my overwhelming collection of self-help and how-to books (most I’ve never read). But, as I was brainstorming, tugging on the various threads that were dancing in and out of my thoughts, I realized that my favorite collection, by far, is my collection of experiences.

Unlike some people, I do like to collect and I always have. What I don’t like as much, is cleaning. As a child, I collected unicorns, and I spent most of my teens and early twenties collecting porcelain dolls and stuffed teddy bears. Everywhere I went in the world, I grabbed one or the other to add to the collection. As an adult, my teddy bear collection evolved from stuffed bears to the Boyd’s Bears figurines (much easier to dust!). I still collect charms for my bracelets, books, and for some reason, office supplies. (Okay, that last one is not really a collection, at least in the traditional sense, but I seem to have a lot (anyone need a pen, or 20?). I collect photos (rather than other souvenirs), and I love them. But, when we built a house, and all this stuff needed a place to be and to be cleaned regularly–I realized just how much I hate to dust. (Passionately. I hate dusting passionately.) Oh, boy. Amazingly, I haven’t collected much that requires dusting since we moved in. However, there’s one collection that continues to grow, and requires no dusting at all.

I collect experiences.

As an only child living in a fairly rural area, I had a lot of time to myself. I think the practice of collecting probably began way back then. Adding new things to my room, organizing them, re-arranging them, all these tasks of creating and maintaining a collection were fun for me. As an adult, well, not so much. I’m also an introvert, and we introverts tend to hover on the periphery of things where we’re not so overwhelmed. We visit the edges of conversations, the boundaries of parties, the quiet corners of chaos. We watch, and we listen.

And in my case, I collect. Things I see, things I hear. I could spend hours sitting in a mall or museum, watching the people walk by, imagining the situations they’re in based on the body language. Hand-gestures are so expressive, even from a distance! Sometimes, as I’m sitting in a food court, I’ll catch a few snippets of conversation. Without context, these snippets can sound strange, scary, exciting, dangerous. . .and it is so much fun to write the missing text in my head.

I’ve worked in a wide-range of industries, technology, healthcare, cosmetics, education, and I’ve been to some amazing places, like Brazil, England, Australia, Mexico, and lots of fun islands. All of these experiences were added to my collection, which lives, dust-free, in my head. I suspect this collection is taking over a bit too much space (I’ve forgotten how to do fractions, I recently discovered, when trying to help my daughter with her math), but I do love these virtual tchotchkes! They make life interesting by adding dimension, depth, and perspective. The best part?

What they add to my writing. Whenever I get stuck, when I’ve written myself into a corner or I’ve lost the plot thread, or I’ve simply bored myself with my writing (it happens!), I can close my eyes and flip through the filing cabinet of experiences in my head. Actually, it’s more like an internal Pinterest board. Images, odors, temperatures, sounds, words, are all there to browse through, remember, enjoy. My writing gets better as I add some version of the remembered experience, or one gets used as inspiration and woven into the story, and I get to enjoy the memories again and again.

No dusting required!


Author: Pamela A. Oberg

Pamela is a portfolio manager at an educational assessment company by day, writer by night. Founder of Writers on Words (a discussion and critique group), Pamela enjoys spinning tales of murder and mayhem, with an occasional foray into the world of the paranormal.

9 thoughts on “Collecting Experiences”

  1. I’d love to hear more about your travels. What other islands? How was Brazil? Australia? I collect travel experiences, too.


  2. This is such an important collection for a writer. If we don’t have something to pull from, we run out of steam for our creative engines.

    And, I totally hear you on the need to have less and less. I’ve been assessing some of my collections that have been sitting in closets for years and wondering if they’ve served their purpose…


  3. Theresa, every place has been amazing! I want to hear about Egypt. We can trade stories! Let’s see, Grand Cayman, Cozumel, St. Martin, St. Thomas, and St. Lucia (so far).

    Diane, my dolls have not been out of their boxes in close to 15 years. It’s sort of sad, but I have to really think about whether I’m ready to let them go. Definitely ready to reduce the size of the collection!

    Mary, thank you! It is amazing. Just when I think I’m so stuck I can’t possibly get out, some snippet (and some of the snippets were shared by other people) saves my bacon. Phew!


  4. Love the way you describe collecting experiences! That’s so perfect and so true. I’m sure many writers do that, I know I do! It’s one of the reasons I’m grateful for my time as a features reporter: I got to collect a lot of very random experiences in a short amount of time!


  5. No dusting required — that’s the best kind of collection! And useful, too. We can’t always experience the wild things our protagonists get to experience, but we can draw on our collection of similar situations that produced similar emotion. Where in Brazil? I used to live there many moons ago.


  6. Sarah, I really wish I had listened to my mother when she suggested journalism as a major for me. I can only imagine the variety you experienced!

    Sue, right? I have a serious dislike for dusting. I was in Salvador, Bahia for three weeks one winter. A friend had been an exchange student there, and invited me to tag along when he returned to visit his host family and friends. I saw no tourist attractions–only the “real” Brasil. It was amazing! Where did you live?!?


  7. I agree, Pamela, it’s amazing! I lived in Belo Horizonte, a “minor” city of a mere 2 and a half million that most northerners haven’t even heard of. I’m writing a mystery that’s set there, but it’s a really tough go.


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