Thursday, September 1, 2016

My Object, Myself

We all have them -- or had them. Many were quite simple -- a lucky coin, a ball of lint, an acorn from a trail in the woods of summer camp, an old house key. Some were more elaborate, with promises of mystery and adventure: one of my own childhood treasures was my PF Flyers Secret Decoder Ring. Never mind that PF Flyers were sneakers reserved for total dorks (any cool kid would have had Chuck Taylors, or at least Keds); the ring, complete with a transparent rotating dial that could encode and decode messages, and a secret compartment to store them in, was cooler than cool.

In childhood, there seems to be a pure delight in things that becomes more difficult as time goes by. We change, and our favorite things change with us; the toys of yesterday lie forgotten in our attics (a scene evoked in the Velveteen Rabbit, a book I would argue isn't for kids at all, but adults, who have "put away childish things"). We leave them, or lose them, or try to bring them along even after the magic has passed, and they've become merely the memory of the things they were. Could we have them back again, we would almost have to create a sort of museum, complete with glass cabinets and explanatory signs, telling others -- and reminding us -- what they meant, and when, and why.

And there are other sorts of objects as well -- objects of fascination, or terror, whose associations bring back hatred, dread, or sorrow. Such objects are at the core of the David Mamet story, "The Rake," which includes not only that implement, but also a glass table, lockers that can't be locked, a game in which the parents pretend to abandon their children, and real-life dramas in which they do. Some objects -- guns, switchblade knives, brass knuckles -- live only to harm, while others, seemingly innocent, can still be turned to harm. And, to protect us from such things, there is yet another class of objects which seem to shield us from misfortune: a charm bracelet, a lucky clover, a St. Christopher medal, or a magic ring.

When I was only about one year old, my great-grandfather Elbert gave me two old silver-certificate dollar bills; these were then being phased out of circulation, and finding one was seen as a sign of fortune. Along with them, he included a note to me: "I am sending you a couple of of "Lucky Bucks" to give you a good start in life -- may you collect a million of them." That hasn't happened -- yet -- but I still carry one in my pocket everywhere I go. After all, who knows?

So what's your special object? What thing, among all things, best represents you, your aspirations, your sense of yourself? Over the next week, we'll be sharing these objects, and finding ways that, through drawing and writing, we can use them as spurs to a kind of language that does the same thing for us today that these objects once did when we were children.

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