Writing from Found Objects

Sometimes I come home to find something foreign in my home. Usually that means my father is in town.  The grandfather clock he dragged from my neighbor’s garage sale on a dolly is–less a found object than–a “how’d-you-get-that-around-the-neighborhood-and-into my-house object?”

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When I give writing workshops, I love to throw paper bags on tables filled with curious and questionable objects. Perusing for Friday Photos I tripped over this pic I’d recently worked up for Craigslist… (another story), and it reminded me of where the brain goes with found objects.

Taking in the grandfather clock’s carved exterior, press-wood face-plate, German mechanism and secret storage compartment, I wondered what stories this clock would tell.

Who built it? Who designed it? Who put together the parts for the reproduction kit? What kind of day did the line-worker have when she or he assembled the kit? Why wouldn’t the faceplate seat into the hole, for which it which fit?

What inspired the late 1970s craze for the DIY-er to build a grandfather clock at home? Was it the Bicentennial with its clothing, movie, book, etc. movement?”  Were kit clocks the economic alternative to expensive, hard-to-find antique clocks?

What inspired the moon and stars motif? And what–pray-tell–differentiates grandfather clocks from grandmother clocks?

What had the clock witnessed from its stately pose in another home? Or homes? How many children had schooled by in its sentient shadow?  Why should it matter?

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It matters because writers ask why. I learned this year with my composition students that rather than having them write a thesis statement to start a writing project, they should write a research question. That way they are not locked into trying to prove something that’s unsubstantiated.

Asking questions is okay because we know that sometimes the answers are unexpected. Without that curiosity and interest in what happens in the world and in characters–or the character of the inanimate–such as this clock–we humans wouldn’t have story.

Now, if only I could ask a few potential buyers to come forward to buy this clock. Wouldn’t it look divine dressing up a home for the holidays? Now that’s a question worth asking. I just need a character with the right answer to show up on Craigslist! Perhaps another grandfather?

What stories have you imagined from found objects?

13 thoughts on “Writing from Found Objects

  1. I love the idea of beginning with a research question v a thesis statement. There’s a sense of movement and possibility right from the beginning. A sense of moving forward, rather than backward, to uncover what’s lurking inside your imagination. Brilliant!


    • The research question idea is the brainchild of my First-year Composition Director, Dr. Michael Stancliff. Likewise, he encourages something I’ve always let my students do: select their own topics about which to write. Students are far more passionate and invested that way. More work for me… but I LOVE seeing students interested in a required class!


    • There are some wonderful articles out there written by research librarians on this, since students have too long suffered under “Thesis Tyranny” – I think that’s the title of one of the articles!


  2. Walking on the beach in the Queen Charlottes where things wash up on shore from Japan, I found one rubber glove in the sand. Not too far away was a white plastic helmet, and I wondered where the body of the fisherman was who had lost these things. Some distance farther along I found the clue – an empty bottle of Suntory (Japanese) whisky.


    • It’s fascinating that you’d join the conversation today since I am literally combing my book manuscript for found objects of a sort… those symbols that show up without us knowing it in literature… such as rocks, ravens, water, fire… these are almost timeless in human archetype and they exist to tell something about us… so keep finding and DO mix the two… you will find yourself a pioneer of sorts! For example, you could create an interactive book with smart phone links to show the found art objects about which you write on line… so readers have organic experience of “finding…”


  3. Pingback: Great Finds | vsvevg

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