Saturday, August 1, 2009

Significant Objects

Authors Rob Walker (Buying In) and Joshua Glenn (Taking Things Seriously) started a project and “experiment” called Significant Objects. In their own works they examined how many of us “whether we realize it or not, invest inanimate objects with significance.” They thought it would be “both interesting and fun to set up an experiment in which significance was artificially cooked up under controlled conditions and applied to insignificant objects.”

How the project/experiment works is this: The curators purchase objects found at thrift stores or garage sales. Some objects featured are a Sanka ashtray, a nutcracker with troll hair (or something else), and a chili cat figurine. A writer is paired with the object and the writer creates a fictional story about it. The (now) significant object is listed for sale on eBay along with the story. The winning bidder receives the significant object as well as a printout of the author’s story. The author does receive net proceeds from the sale, and the author does retain all rights.

Last weekend my daughter and I visited some antique shops. We love spending hours picking through jewelry and tchotchkes. I like trying to imagine who once owned a ring or odd figurine. It’s in my nature. We left with a sterling silver ring with two blossoms on the band and a book about gnomes. I wonder if the ring was given to a teenage daughter by her mother. The ring is small, the size a child would wear. The gnome book is a gift for a friend who has an obsession about gnomes.

I wear a ring I found in a thrift shop a year ago. It was an emerald cut greenish-grey stone set on a plain gold band. It reminded me of a ring my grandmother wore when she went to church. The ring was dingy and in need of polishing. It only cost a dollar. I cleaned it up and I wear it almost all the time. I get a lot of compliments on it. Sometimes I’m tempted to make up a family story about it instead of saying that I found it in a thrift shop.

All of us have things we have an attachment to. Maybe it’s an odd-looking figurine someone gave us as a gift, or something we picked up because it made us smile, or could not leave behind because it was so ugly because we couldn’t bear the thought of it sitting on a shelf, unbought, unwanted. Look around your own home. Choose an object. Pick it up. Spend fifteen minutes freewriting about it. What is the story behind it? There’s a reason why you keep it, and there’s a reason why you’ve given its place on a bookshelf, desk, or kitchen counter. If you don’t know, make it up. Feel free to share your stories here.