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?”
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?
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?