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Object Lessons

Though the sun is bright, the air crisp and bracing, I'm heavy with sadness over the world news. After five years of obsessively consuming mad media, I now try to find a balance of little news and no news. Whenever I become especially glum, I abandoned all contact with the outside world and spend hours for days cleaning my studio. Recently, I unearthed a box of tiny treasures in a plastic bin under my painting table, a bin I'd not yet unpacked since our move to Maine seven years ago. We moved to Maine because all of my adult life I've wanted to live here. My husband loves to sail and was landlocked in Vermont. Though we tearfully left a son and a daughter with babies, it seemed we should live the last third of our life where we wanted to. This weekend I was reading a novel set in Maine. The narrator questioned whether people who came here from away were trying to reclaim a loss of innocence. A few years ago, I'd written an essay in which, it turns out, I'd outed myself. It's exactly why I moved here. Is that wrong?

I opened the box of tiny treasures. I knew that saving these trinkets––––ceramic animals, quartz crystals, wooden dolls, miniature books, and miniature chairs, sand dollars, little boxes filled with glittery sand, critters shaped from plastic clay made by children––––was also an attempt at preserving something long gone. The childhood years. My childhood years, my dozens of years working with children, my children now grown. I asked my husband to hang an antique printer's tray I had bought on a wall where I usually hang a painting in progress. I spent a bitterly cold afternoon arranging and rearranging the tiny treasures inside the tiny rectangles. By the end of the day, the whole of my collection became greater than the sum of its parts. I found comfort in this. But I also thought about people in a situation where they have to suddenly flee from their homes and what they might sequester inside a pocket of a suitcase and what might happen to the things they must leave behind.

A few times a year, I offer writing workshops with the theme, Object Lessons. Many teachers do this. I'll read a poem or a brief piece of prose in which the piece revolves around something like an old clock, a collection of stones on a window sill, a blue vase on a dresser, a plum. The stuff of the world, the stuff we have around us, becomes the prompt. Visual artists often make studies of an object or a grouping of objects, focusing on composition and perspective, experimenting with hues and tints. Still life. This printer's box is my version of drawing a study, an assemblage of objects, but it doesn't feel still. It feels alive, active, moving, and in flux. I can imagine some items will be replaced for others over time. It's a metaphor for longing. I write a lot about longing. I'm curious. What objects, I wonder, have you arranged around yourself? What did they once mean to you? What have they come to mean to you now?

(Photo: Jodi Paloni)

Creativity Prompts

~ Choose an object that is near and dear to you. ~ Place it next to you at your table or desk. Or set it on your kitchen table or on your coffee table. Or, if it's fitting to do so, keep it in your pocket. ~ Live with it close to you for a day or two or a week. ~ Draw it. Write about it. Do both. ~ After some time, write about what you discovered when you paid attention to the object "with intention" for a time in this way. ~ If you care to, write about what you would take with you if you ever had to leave your home quickly and didn't know if you'd ever return. This is a new moon activity, a time to get quiet, to go within, to become still. And with a new moon in Pisces, it's a dreamy new moon. You might be surprised what hidden or secret messages could come through.

Enjoy! I'll be back when the moon is next full. ~ Jodi x

For more inpiration on the Printers Box Displays, go here.

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