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 #4: Life is a Collage

Lately, I’ve been working on ideas for an essay about the broad topic of home. How do I define home? How has that changed since I was a kid? What do I carry with me? What embodies the ideal of home? What stories can I tell that support my definition?

While mucking around in these thoughts, I’ve looked at old photos, acquired a subscription to Dwell magazine, dug up my high school scrapbook, explored images on Pinterest, and rearranged my office.

That last one was an accident.

Anyway, visuals help me clarify my ideas, which is why I decided to do a collage. I could behave like a kid in elementary school art class only I’d get to use sharper tools and cooler pictures. This collage would hold the images that feel most important or simply the most attractive to me in one nice, neat place.

I visited my neighborhood library to collect an armful of books about collage techniques. I learned that collage is a lot more than gluing stuff to paper, which alarmed me for a minute. Was I getting in over my head?

Well, no. There are just a lot more options for this kind of art than I realized, options that go far beyond images on paper. Since I’m not a trained visual artist, I will whittle the information down to images that inspire me. This is not an art project for public consumption. This is an art project for my own creative jolt.

And, so I gathered my tools:

The process of sitting at my dining room table to gather images is what I’m still doing. I love finding images that inspire me, that make me ask questions, that remind me of old stories. I love handling all these pieces of paper. It reminds me of how I used to collect things as a kid, keeping them in a shoebox or a drawer until my mother forced me to question why I kept items that had no use beyond their status as “memento”. 

As I’m amassing this pile of stuff to glue onto a base for the collage, my thoughts are clearly shifting on this whole topic of home. I’m thinking about mementos, certainly, but also the way we move around, comfort, shelter, companionship, how to feed the senses, what matters. I’m thinking about sanctuary.

I’m not quite sure when the collage will be finished. I’ve started a fluid project that I’ll be able to return to again and again when I need a shift in focus or clarification of an idea. It’s not weather-dependent. It’s not time-dependent. This just might be the perfect thing for a writer who needs a variation in routine.

The collage will go into my office, on the wall somewhere so I can glance at it sometimes while I continue to work on my essay about home. I knew there was a reason I rearranged my office.


  1. Lurking in my head is a memory of a fictional psychopathic detective who had a collage whiteboard to help her solve dreadful murders. The porridge in my head wouldn't give me a name but it did give me the location of the book. Kathleen Mallory in a series written by Carol O'Connell.

    I really like the idea of an inspirational/directional collage though. Maybe images could be on magnetic strips so they could me moved around at need. I would however have to get someone else to do the cutting. My license to use scissors has been rescinded.


  2. I love the idea of using a magnetic surface as a collage background – a sort of “living” collage. I have a magnetic bulletin board above my computer desk (IKEA – they have the perfect size) and I've always used it as a place to stick my most-often used HTML codes, passwords, upcoming calls for submissions, etc., with a few photos thrown in. I may have to rethink how I use that board. Or buy a second one. Hmm.


  3. I did this about five years ago, when I felt lost… as if I'd lost me. It was after my sister had died, before my son joined me in the house we shared for the following four years. I started grabbing images I liked, that drew me in. Because I am an instant gratification woman, it took about a week, but when I was done, then I sat and wrote a stream of consciousness piece stimulated by that collage. I found me again, which was crucial, I think, to my being able to start a life without a sister who had, with the exception of three years during my adult life, never lived more than two hundred steps from me all fifty-three years I had her. I love this idea of having the living collage board as well.


Comments are closed.