52 Ways to Shift Your Focus

Welcome to my Tuesday feature designed to get you moving in a different direction, shake up your daily or weekly writing routine. Later, you can return to your writing with a shift in focus.

Shift #3: I Got a Rock

One of my jars of rocks

Often, when I’m stuck on what to write, I sift through things in my office and think about where they came from. Among those things are a number of rocks. I’ve picked them up all over the world, carried them home, put them in jars, in baskets, on bookshelves, and settled them on my desk. There are a few that I bought at a new-age sort of store that used to be in St. Paul and was called Stonehenge Rocks and Rituals. Those stones came with little cards that listed assigned properties they allegedly held: malachite for protection, hematite for grounding, carnelian for courage and association with my Zodiac sign of Leo. I loved to visit that store and read about the magic of crystals and gems while I looked through containers of polished stones. In fact, that was one of the places I went to find something soothing when my daughter Abby landed in the hospital at the age of five. I needed a break, didn’t have time to go far, so went to Stonehenge Rocks and Rituals and found a crystal pendant that was shaped perfectly to enclose in my palm while it hung from my neck. The crystal was shot through with pale green and purple. Its smooth surface worked to help me steady myself when I needed it over the days that followed.

I purchased the same field guide that my mother had.

Collecting rocks is something I’ve done ever since I can remember. My mother taught me how to find agates before I knew how to spell the word. My parents often got in the car and drove to northern Minnesota to hike along a lake or river. There, on those muddy trails, Mom would use her toe to push up a rock here and there, bending to get it in her hand only if it looked promising. She showed me the way agates had a banded appearance, how rubbing a wet thumb (spit worked well) across the surface of the rock made it easier to see its qualities. She would put the really pretty agates in her pocket for later. Mom had a guidebook, Rock and Minerals, that she let me thumb through. It was a small book that could fit in a pocket – the quintessential field guide for amateur rock collectors. I loved all the pictures of the crystal structures.

Flat stones still go into my pocket.

My father, who did not collect rocks, showed me how to look for nice, flat stones that I could easily throw. He taught me how to skip them across the surface of the water, make them bounce before they sank. It was all in the flick of the wrist and the angle of the throw. Sometimes, I found the perfect flat rock, but couldn’t bear to part with it. That one would go in my pocket.

Stones found along Lake Superior

It’s well-known to people in Minnesota that one of the best places to find interesting rocks, even if you’re not someone who pays much attention to rocks in general, is along Lake Superior north of Duluth.  This was one of the places my father would drive to whenever he got the chance. We would leave early on a Saturday or Sunday and return late at night. In between, we’d spend the day wandering along the shore of the big lake, skipping rocks, watching the water, having lunch, and climbing over boulders or up hills. I would come home with a new horde of rocks that I would add to whatever shoebox was currently in use to hold my collection. I’m not entirely sure what happened to all those rocks; someone must have sorted them out when I wasn’t looking.

Several years ago, a close friend of mine gave me a stone that was shaped into a heart and polished. That gift got Abby’s attention. She began finding heart-shaped rocks everywhere and giving them to me. I love those rocks that she pressed into my hand, love that she figured out a gesture that was so concrete. Those stones are among the ones I’ve kept.

My heart-shaped rocks from Abby

Today, when you back away from your computer to shift your focus, step outside. See which humble stones might be just the kind of earthy art you can bring back inside of your writing space. See which stones might trigger old stories.


Remember that crystal pendant that I bought when Abby was five? I’ve passed it on to her.

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4 comments

  1. We're a skipping-stone family. In the summer, my daughters and I compete to see who gets the most skips out of a stone, who can jump the stone over a buoy line, that sort of thing. But like so much else, it's not really about the stones. It's about walking along the beach, quietly talking as our eyes skim the sand ahead for that perfect, smooth, shaped-just-right, weighs-just-right stone, and finding it before the others. Okay, so maybe it is about the stones and competition after all. And the good times.

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  2. Just beautiful. My father was an amateur gemnologist and I spent many days wandering river banks (and regretfully camped beside slag heaps). And yes, licking on stones was something he shared. I still have some of his rocks resting on the floor of the fishtank where they stay permanently wet.

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