Memoir Writer Asks: Where Do Socks Go?

by Matilda Butler on January 16, 2013

Writing Prompt LogoPost #171 – Women’s Memoirs, Writing Prompts and Life Prompts – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler

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Susie-Spangler, memoir author, writerWOMEN’S MEMOIRS welcomes memoir author Susie Spangler back. This time she has us pondering small mysteries in our lives.

At the end of Susie’s article, you’ll find a memoir writing prompt. Give it a try and see where it leads you.

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Where Do Socks Go? An Homage to Small Mysteries

By Susan Spangler, author & illustrator of The Year of the Bird: True Stories in Words and Pictures.

Susie-Spangler, memoir author, writing

This is a picture of an actual mateless sock. My nephew emailed it to me after a recent visit. Its counterpart had not survived the trip. This was my nephew’s only pair of argyles, and in his attempt to facilitate a sock reunion, he asked me to be on the lookout.

Is he kidding? I, myself, have at least 27 unmatched socks crammed into the back of my dresser. My husband’s sock drawer is festooned forlornly with a flotilla of odd socks, which he’s taken to hanging over the edge of the drawer, half-in and half-out, as if to make it possible for them to flag down their missing twins, should one somehow find its way home.

We’re hardly alone. If you google the question “where do socks go?” you’ll get a list of 75,200,000 results in the first twenty seconds. That’s more than seventy-five. Million. References to lost socks.

According to http://www.express.co.uk, “16.8 million socks get lost in the wash every year in Britain — in weight equal to seven-and-a-half double-decker buses.”

That’s a lot of socks.

A widespread phenomenon, to say the least. A mystery of long standing: The Sock Conundrum. If you drop two socks into the laundry, what’s the probability that both will make it back to your feet? Who can predict? Are there statistics on laundry?

Why, yes. There are. While most of my clicks led me to worn-out sock jokes about aliens, gnomes and black holes, at www.laundry-alternative.com, there’s actually a detailed description of The Quantum Theory of Laundry by Brian J. Reardon — relating specifically to socks and expressed in the following formula: Y3(x,t) = C*sin(kx-wt) + D*cos(kx-wt).

You don’t say.

Well, at least, I don’t.

I finally found a blog post on econutssoap.com that was written in terms I could understand. It describes a 2-inch gap beneath the washing machine’s agitator, through which socks can be sucked. The writer cautions prospective agitator-investigators to take care, first, to unplug the washer and then, while in the process of yanking the agitator out, not to whack oneself in the noggin.

Hmm. That might be the culprit.

On the other hand. Come on. How many socks can one two-inch gap hold? We’ve had the same washer for about fifteen years. According to Britain’s Office for National Statistics (http://www.ons.gov.uk), the population of Britain is about 63.2 million. If you divide that by the number of socks purportedly lost in British laundries every year, you get 3.75, which, by the way, sounds like a gross underestimation to me. But if you accept that figure, and if you assume that socks disappear at roughly the same rate in the U.S. as in Britain, that would suggest that at least 112.5 socks are now lodged in the bottom of our washing machine.

I guess I’ll have to check. Maybe tomorrow.

Meanwhile, even after spending all this time tracking down sock stats, I’m still wondering: where do they go? I mean, honestly. Washing machines all over the world are stuffed with lost socks? Does that really sound measurably more plausible than alien footwear abduction?

But, please.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not obsessed with socks. Half the year, I don’t even wear them. It’s just that my nephew sent me that picture of his sock, and it started me thinking. Can anything be more familiar than the lowly sock? Toe, heel, elastic ribbing. Pull it on. Pull it off. Toss it into the hamper. And then what? Mystery. Most of the time, it returns to the bedroom with the other clothes, as expected. But sometimes. Not. You never know.

There are lot of things like that. As familiar as the back of your hand—and at the same time hardly knowable at all. Like, for instance, where does time go? What do babies dream? Why does it feel so good to stand in the sand and watch the waves? How does sleeping stop? Is the glass half-empty? Are we there yet? Why can’t we all just get along?

These days on Earth, between the blare of scary headlines and the crush of private griefs, life can feel like a chronic state of shock & awe. Sometimes, as Wordsworth wrote, the world is too much with us.

Susie-Spangler, memoir writingLet us find comfort in the contemplation of small mysteries. What makes periwinkle my favorite color? Why do the stars amaze us? Why do we cry with laughter? What adds up to beautiful? Why does this song make me wanna dance?

And while we’re on the subject, where do lost socks go? How did they get there?

Why?

Memoir Writing Prompts

Here are two types of prompts for you. One has you pondering topics that have interested you before — even if only in passing. The second has you writing brief essays that come from your imagination and that serve to answer the questions posed above.

1. There are many small mysteries in each life. What are some of the topics that have intrigued you? Write a list of up to five questions you’d like to ask someone, even knowing there isn’t a real answer. Then write an answer to one of the questions — one of your personal mysteries.

Valentine’s Day is coming. Perhaps you’ll ask (and answer) the question: Why does my partner love me? or Why do I love my partner?

2. Take one of these questions posed above. Let it spark your imagination and write your proposed answer.

Where does time go?
What do babies dream?
Why does it feel so good to stand in the sand and watch the waves?
How does sleeping stop?
Is the glass half-empty?
Are we there yet?
Why can’t we all just get along?

Have fun with these. Let your imagination go wild. This will get your creative juices flowing. Then follow on with an hour working on your memoir.

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Be sure to check out Susie Spangler’s memoir.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Amyah January 16, 2013 at

Well, dear you! This is just one half of the story… and what about the sockauphages nasty dryer? How many times I witnessed it! The socks, like Siamese twins, survived the hungry washing machine but only one came out of the dryer.
I checked everywhere for the poor lost socksoul in case it stuck for its life to pants or shirts. But no avail… it disappeared, vanished, evaporated, disintegrated and was nowhere to be found.
The poor survivor now lives in the already half full orphan’s box, morosely waiting for the return of its twin. So sad to see :(
Everything has been done to find the socknaped socks, even opening the tummy of the washing machine and the dryer. Nothing. Not a socksoul. An unsolved mystery.
The after-life of a sock, engulfed in another dimension, through the time-portal inside the drying machine…

Susan Spangler January 16, 2013 at

I love the idea of the mysterious afterlife of a lost sock, Amiyah! And I have to agree, a time portal in the dryer is as good as any explanation I’ve found…

Annie Payne February 1, 2013 at

What a wonderful tale about one of modern live’s great mysteries. I’m sure that lost socks where not something our grandmother’s considered in those far off days of boiling coppers and vast troughs of rinse water, separated by the terrifying mangle.
I remember Nan’s clothes line, hoisted aloft, flying dozens of pairs of hand-knitted men’s socks, dangling in the breeze and already paired before being pegged on to the wire line.
No, I’m sure that pragmatic little Scotswoman, mother of 11 children, didn’t waste one minute during her busy day wondering about lost socks! Hand-knitted by her for all her children and grandchildren, socks were all hand washed in warm soapy water, rubbed along a timber and corrugated glass scrubbing board if they were very dirty, rinsed and pegged out to dry. Like small lambs, they bonded to her from the start and wouldn’t dare to stray!

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