I keep a rock from when I went caving some years ago on the book shelf above my writing desk. It appears to be somehow sliced open, and while the outside is ordinary grayish-brownish-rough-like rock, the slice reveals its insides: black and smooth and cool as glass.
Like so many things, my caving rock does double duty. I like the heft of it in my hand. I love the fact that it's a rock, a thing that's been around a very long time. If I could rewind time, watch everything I own morph back to their origins like rewinding video feed, so many of my things--including myself--would disappear. My books would wing back to the printer's, and then to trees, and then, to carbon dioxide, light and water, and then to seeds, and then, all the way back to microscopic slips of information: tree DNA inside a parent tree inside a parent tree inside a parent tree.
And, of course, the other part of the books, the words inside them, would lift off the page, return to the mind of the authors, and there, go through all the things that brought them to be in the first place. Whatever those origins might have been.
But my caving rock would survive this far, the walls of my house disassembling, the cinder-blocks in the walls going back to cinder, the trees that were here before re-growing, and on. I'm no geologist, but I'm pretty certain it's been a very long time since my rock has changed.
It's been with me--on my shelf, in a drawer, in a box--for seventeen years. That feels like a very long time to me; not so much to my rock.
We writers spend our days in the physical world, examining a number of psychological and spiritual and interpersonal spaces, writing about physical things that don't exist.
Of course, we don't need these things. These talismans. But, I think it helps, some fragment of this physical world. It holds me in physical space and inspires me as well. The cave itself was beyond magical. I remember a particular passage--called "the birth canal" by our guide if that tells you anything--which was so narrow and short we had to crawl through. But then, it would open up and suddenly, we were standing up in a cathedral-like open, underground space, the stalactites glistening down. It didn't feel like planet Earth. Like real-life.
So, I keep the rock on the shelf above me to remind me of those spaces. To remind myself that I used to do such things--go traipsing through caves. To remind myself, also, what I'm trying to do here, and also to remind myself that the real world, actual caves, exist. It's both a relief and a means to keep everything in perspective: there are spaces beyond my own brain, my own made-up stories. The rock will outlast every one of my ideas.
What about you? Any evidence of the real world you like to keep handy while you write?