Fire in the Hole!

by | Feb 4, 2013 | Lists, Métro, Boulot, Dodo, Writing

I don’t usually like to write from prompts, but for some reason I’m having trouble coming up with a theme for today’s post. I could talk about how my husband sleep-talks like a robot (I know) and how I dreamed about taking a writing workshop with Neil Gaiman (and it was awesome) but all together that takes up like…yeah, one paragraph.

So, I toddled over to WordPress’ Daily Prompt section to see if they could offer me any brilliant ideas. Happily, I came across this little nugget:

Your home is on fire. Grab five items (assume all people and animals are safe). What did you grab?

*sad face*

*sad face*

On first glance this prompt seems quite banal. Saving five items from a burning house, yawn. But the more I thought about it, the more I liked it, and here’s why. Asking someone which five items they would rescue from their burning home is really just a roundabout way of asking someone, “What’s important to you, really?” People and pets are a given, and the question isn’t asking about them. It’s asking, “When you pare down your life to the barest of essentials, what really matters?”

Now, before I dig too deep into this issue, I should make a disclaimer. My husband and I have moved around a lot in the past 3+ years, so we don’t own a ton of stuff. Our current apartment is furnished, so we don’t own our furniture. We avoid buying books because we hate having to sell/give away our library every time we invariably move again. Most of what we own is clothes, electronics, kitchenware, and a few sentimental photos or knickknacks. So maybe this question is too easy for me.

When I first saw this prompt my initial thought was, “Does my laptop and its charger count as two different items?” My brain was suddenly aflurry with trying to account for my most expensive belongings. Which of my shoes did I pay the most for? Which of my dresses? And it was only after a good three minutes of mental calculations that I realized something crucial. These things may have been expensive, yes. But are they really valuable? Do they matter to me in any real way?

Maybe if my Macbook was plated in gold I'd reconsider.

Maybe if my Macbook was plated in gold I’d reconsider.

In a word, no. Sure, my laptop turning into a fiery cinder would be a massive annoyance, but all my writing and important photos are backed up in the cloud. This piece of machinery is replaceable. I will always be able to buy shoes and clothes and things. Yet the truly irreplaceable things–the things I would actually want to save from the conflagration–usually don’t have much of a monetary value.

I remember watching a mediocre romcom where this “burning house” question was something of a plot point. If I recall correctly, the heroine eventually left her corporate fiance for a dashing Irish farmer after pulling the fire alarm in her building and seeing which items her fiance reached for to save. I didn’t think about it much at the time, but now it seems to me that the movie was getting at the same point I’ve arrived at: the things that matter to you define you. This burning house question affords us an easy way to jump right to the heart of the issue and ask ourselves which of our belongings matter the most to us, and more importantly, why?

I would save my writing notebook, where I’ve jotted down years’ worth of ideas and unfinished short stories and unused research. I would save my copy of Story Engineering by Larry Brooks–I’ve written so many notes in the margins and dogeared so many pages that it’s more like an old friend than a book. I would save my unique vintage engagement ring. I would save my dream journal, where I’ve written down the most interesting dreams I’ve had for nearly 10 years. I would save my art folder, where I’ve kept my favorite sketches and drawings since high-school and college.

Each of these things matters to me. Not because they cost me something to buy, but because they would cost me something to lose.

What items would you save, if your house was burning? Which of your belongings matters most to you? I’d love to hear your answers in the comments section below!