Just in case you’re in the mood for something to read, here’s the story of how I started collecting heart-shaped rocks. Enjoy!
Excerpted from Shine On: How To Grow Awesome Instead of Old
Copyright © Claire Cook. All rights reserved.
HAVE A HEART
I love found sculptures. Walking in the woods at Christmastime and discovering a scrubby little pine tree with candy canes hanging from it and a tinsel garland wrapped around it like a hug. Or strolling across the beach and finding all the left-behind flip-flops dangling from a mast-like hunk of driftwood.
Midlife Rocks is something I say all the time, so maybe that’s where it starts. As I walk along the river path, I find myself stopping occasionally to make a pile of little flat rocks, each one smaller that the one it’s perched on. I stack them on the ground, or on a boulder, or on a fallen moss-covered log, or even on a tree limb reaching out like an arm.
And then I keep walking. It’s fun. It’s zen. But mostly it’s a gift. I hope that when other people notice one of my tiny rock sculptures, it will make them smile.
Then one day I find my first heart-shaped rock. It’s maybe two inches in diameter and nestled on a bed of pine needles about a foot off the path. It’s perfectly imperfect—undeniably shaped like a real heart, but more like The Velveteen Rabbit kind of real, as if it’s been bumped around a bit and loved into shape by nature.
I know I should leave it to make someone else’s day like it’s just made mine, but apparently my midlife rocks generosity is limited. I can’t do it.
Instead I use pebbles to create the shape of a heart around my found treasure. Then I pick up my heart-shaped rock and walk away.
In my head, Janis Joplin breaks into “Piece of My Heart,” which doesn’t help the guilt factor.
Confucius jumps in to make me feel better: “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”
And so a collection is born. I start seeing heart-shaped rocks everywhere. (I even find one embedded in the beach pebble tile on the floor of my shower.) Collecting them is another way of training my eyes to see. It’s also a way of being present, not something that comes easily to me given my tendency to drift along with my head in my imaginary book world. It’s inspiring. It’s uplifting.
When I post a photo of one on Facebook, I find out I’m not the only one collecting heart-shaped rocks. Linda says finding one means I’m going to have a good day. Beth says a heart-shaped rock is nature’s valentine. Janie says she has looked for heart-shaped rocks on beaches all over the world.
Elizabeth says that a friend of hers used to collect heart-shaped rocks. When she died, her kids gave each person at the funeral one of her rocks to take home to remember her by. Deanell posts that just the night before, she was reading Must Love Dogs: Fetch You Later, where Sarah talks about finding a heart-shaped rock. It’s my book, and I don’t even remember that part. So I look it up, and of course she’s right: “I squatted down to pick up a perfectly heart-shaped beach pebble. The first time I’d found a heart-shaped rock as a little girl, I’d asked my mother if the ocean did this on purpose. I turned it over in my hand, still wondering.”
I have absolutely no idea where that came from. It’s freaky how often my life imitates my fiction, as if a part of me knew all along that something was going to happen.
What I do know is that I’ve always had some ambivalence about hearts. Valentine’s Day is my birthday. The doctor who delivered me tried to convince my parents to name me Valentina. I remember scratching my way through an entire birthday as a toddler wearing a puffy, itchy dress made out of red organza with white hearts. Heart-shaped lockets. Heart-shaped birthday cakes. Conversation hearts, gummy hearts, cinnamon hearts. When it came to my birthday, we had a theme.
On the one hand it’s a great birthday to have, because people remember it. On the other hand, while it’s definitely not as bad as a Christmas birthday, it’s kind of a buy-one-get-one-free deal. Over the years, I think I’ve received every Happy Valentine’s/Birthday card ever made.
As problems go, this is a good one to have. But still, no one is more surprised by my new heart obsession than I am. I see hearts everywhere. Bleeding heart flowers. The petals of a pansy. The heart-shaped leaves of redbud trees, elephant ear plants, violets, morning glories.
My heart-shaped jewelry disappeared during the robbery, but I dig up a scarf with hearts on it that someone gave me and wear it for the first time. The next time I’m in a store, I’m drawn to a white blouse covered in funky batik-like blue hearts. I leave without it, then drive all the way back to the store two days later to buy it.
Our collections can be lots of things. A way of creating a legacy. A way of comforting ourselves by accumulating. Sometimes it’s the thrill of the hunt. Collecting can be a kind of obsession. The first step on the slippery slope to becoming a hoarder. A stress reliever. A way of reliving our childhoods. A competitive challenge. A way of bringing order to a disorderly world.
A friend of mine collects Hello Kitty memorabilia. Another collects Elvis stuff. In my novel Life’s a Beach, Ginger and Geri’s parents collect a tiny bottle’s worth of sand from every beach they visit. My mother collected buttons in little Whitman’s Sampler boxes. My mother-in-law collected Hummel figurines.
Over the years, I’ve known people who’ve collected lava lamps, jewelry boxes, perfume bottles, antique bottles, snow globes, seashells, sea glass, egg cups, dice, salt and pepper shakers, cookbooks, autographed books, Pez candy dispensers, owls, frogs, feathers, thimbles, pitchers, Tarot cards, crystals, refrigerator magnets.
I think collections are fun. They give us a goal and the pleasure of achieving it. Even if we’re simplifying our lives, collecting things can be a way of narrowing down what we want to hang on to. Our choices say a lot about who we are.
Displaying our collections can be another way of being creative. Under a glass bell jar. Inside an unused fireplace. Over a doorframe. In a shadowbox. Or an old wooden chicken feeder. Or a vintage wood typeset printing letter drawer.
I arrange my heart-shaped rocks on a shelf so I’ll see them every time I walk into my office. When one of my cats bats one off the edge, it breaks in half as it hits the floor. Oh, well, I’ve certainly had bigger broken hearts in my lifetime.
Who knows why hearts suddenly speak to me. Maybe I’m remembering who I’ve been all along. Maybe it’s about who I’m becoming.
Out of the blue I recall that when I wrote my novel Wallflower in Bloom, I began each chapter with a chiasmus—two parallel phrases with a reversal in the order of words. So I make up a chiasmus for my new collection and write it in my Shine On notebook:
You can’t have a rock-shaped heart while looking for heart-shaped rocks.
Claire Cook wrote her first novel in her minivan when she was 45. At 50, she walked the red carpet at the Hollywood premiere of the adaptation of Must Love Dogs, starring Diane Lane and John Cusack. She is now the New York Times, USA Today, and #1 Amazon bestselling author of 17 books. Be the first to hear about new releases, giveaways, and insider extras at http://ClaireCook.com/newsletter/.