I discovered writer Chelsea Hodson’s blog just over a year ago. Her first chapbook, Beach Camp, was shared by one of my friends on Pinterest and, inspired by its beautiful design, I wanted to know more. I feel incredibly lucky to have followed the breadcrumbs to Chelsea’s Inventory project, as her posts are now part of my own daily routine.
Every day, going on over 400 so far, Chelsea inventories one personal item. Underneath a photograph of herself with the object, she identifies the item and then shares a bit of prose or a quotation or some other connecting gem.
I knew I wanted to find out more about the project—the inspiration or reason for starting, whether it has changed her perspective, and any other bits of information I could get from a woman who is able to write such beautiful, reminiscent and accessible, prose beneath, for example, a photo of her and a brown eyeliner pencil:
As you might expect, I’ve lost count, & as you may have guessed, I don’t know which game is ongoing, I don’t know where my jars went, I put them on high untouchable shelves. The books I never get around to reading are the ones I keep accumulating. Is the dust winning? The snow?
Chelsea was kind enough to speak with me for an interview about Inventory, where I found her answers as eloquent and thought provoking as her daily posts and other writings.
You have been making a daily Inventory post for over 400 days now. How did it begin?
I had an idea to write an essay called Inventory and I worked on it for a few weeks before realizing how arduous the essay would be if I actually finished it. I started in the kitchen, going through each plate, appliance, and so on. I felt overwhelmed by how many items were left and I realized I probably wouldn’t finish the essay unless I added a performative aspect to it. I needed to be watched and held accountable in some form in order to complete the project.
How has writing one item per day affected your writing? Do you struggle to write some days?
I never have writer’s block, but I do have an extremely limited amount of writing time, so the biggest struggle is making good use of it. As every writer knows, it’s the easiest thing to spend your day not writing. Inventory has been a useful, if annoying, daily reminder to write, and to write well, because it’s going online that day no matter what.
Is there a method or order to what you choose to inventory or do you just randomly select something each day?
Books are the thing I have the most of, so I try to include two each week in order to avoid too many piling up at the end of Inventory. Besides that, it’s completely random. A few months ago a company contacted me asking if they could implement a cohesive SKU numbering system into my inventory list. They were like, “You’re doing this all wrong,” but I told them, “It’s OK, I know.”
You often vary the type of writing you include with each post. Sometimes it is a quote, sometimes it is original prose, sometimes it is a quick note, sometimes it refers or links to something you have experienced. Do you prefer one mode to another?
I’ve found the form allows me to meander and experiment, so I try to do what feels best that day. Sometimes it’s prose based on memory, as most of my other work is, but sometimes it’s a lyric poem, sometimes it’s nano fiction, sometimes it’s something from my journal, sometimes I’m addressing “you,” sometimes it’s a quote lifted from the book I’m photographing. The quotes have been especially helpful for moving the writing forward when I sense I’m getting stuck in a certain voice or narrative.
Your posts are particularly evocative for how short they are. You have also written two chapbooks, one of them forthcoming. Do you find it any more easy or difficult to write short form rather than long form? Do you have a preference?
I always write short. I remember reading the guidelines for a “short essay contest” last year and the minimum word count was higher than my longest essay, so I couldn’t enter. Whenever I edit someone else’s work, I almost always tell them I think it should be shorter. Every writer I admire uses their words with impossible restraint, so I do my best to follow suit. Omission is always more interesting.
Do you have a favorite Inventory post?
Inventory #284, Lip Brush, has two lines that stuck with me for a few months, so I recycled them for a poem I wrote called “Meanwhile Downstairs.” I think some entries are inherently stronger than others, but that might be what makes the project interesting to me. It evolves, and it’s far from perfect.
Has Inventory affected the way you view your belongings or material things in general?
Certainly. I even hold off on buying things at this point because I dread doing Inventory forever. What’s interesting is that I started the project because I felt like I didn’t own that many things–everything fits on one Ikea shelving unit inside a tiny room. Yet once I catalog every individual item– here I am 400 entries later.
I read that you’re from Phoenix. Did anything in particular about growing up in Arizona shape your writing?
I’m not sure how it shaped my writing. So much of it was a sprawling suburbia just like anywhere else, but there were pockets of real beauty. For instance, a cornfield near my elementary school where I once saw a funnel cloud form. Or my high school crush’s house in the mountains at the end of a long bumpy dirt road where I once encountered a wild white horse at night.
Do you have a favorite book you read when you were growing up?
In elementary school I spent school lunches reading in the library, but I read the same dog breed encyclopedia every day for what must have been about a year. To this day I know pretty much every breed of dog and its specific traits. Some obsessions can’t be cured. Besides that, I remember getting a real thrill out of discovering Go Ask Alice at the library when I was in middle school. I was an impossibly good kid, but I loved reading about this “anonymous” bad girl and living vicariously through her from the safety of my bedroom.
What is a piece of advice you recently received?
My partner Mark always urges me to trust my instincts. That might seem obvious, but I find it hard to practice–I like things to be logical, to make sense on paper. Some of the best decisions I’ve made don’t adhere to those requirements, so his reminders to listen to my instincts are extremely helpful.
Is there a current project or particular artist you continually follow?
To name a few: Chad Redden does a brilliant podcast called Dream Guides, I’m anxiously awaiting Sarah Manguso’s next book Ongoingness, and I’m excited to see what Alissa Nutting writes next.
Your forthcoming chapbook, Pity the Animal, will be out in May. Can you tell me a little bit about it?
Future Tense Books is releasing it in May 2014. It’s an essay about human submission, commodification, and capturing wild animals.