Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Power Objects

When I laid out a softly woven red Indian throw, pulled two vanilla scented candles out of my backpack and lit them in class tonight, I suspect my students thought their old hippie teacher (whom they're just getting to know) had lost it. But I wanted to create a ritual of respect for "the image," for the magic we make from the objects of our lives.

I'd asked my Intro to Creative Writing students to bring in a personal object -- something that could fit in the hand, something with some significance. For this exercise, adapted from one cooked up by UMF Theater Professor Carolyn Gillespie, each student slipped the chosen object under the coverlet. I turned off the room lights and one by one, we passed around the objects, in silence, allowing each student to touch each of the other students' objects, in the dark. It's a way to gentle the students out of quick visual identification, quick interpretation, earnest left-brain analysis. This low-key ritual slows everybody down. It keeps the words at bay.

A single earring, shaped like dangling skeleton. A buffalo nickel. A mug with a broken handle. A single wooden golf tee. A small spiral bound notebook. A heart necklace. A blue topaz and white gold ring. A simple red and white button. A pair of glasses. A tiny laughing Buddha. Two guitar picks. An infant hospital wrist band.

And after each item had been tenderly passed around and we observed a moment of respectful silence (corny, I know) each student told the story: a first guitar, a gift from a beloved boyfriend who couldn't really afford it, a gift from a cherished mentor, a powerful memory of the birth of a baby, a talisman from the year of a crushing divorce, a necessary aid to vision, a symbol of family love, escape, a coming of age, a turning point. The stories, in all their rich detail and complexity, rolled around the room, each object a trigger, a catalyst, a comfort. It was sweet.

This, I suggested, was a way of thinking about the origin of an image -- how something accompanying us on our journeys through life can become not just any object, but a carrier of particular meaning -- a reminder of something that matters. And then the students tucked their objects away and class was over.

But I was touched, as always, by the evidence of our attachments, how little bits of metal and wood and plastic transform into shorthand for our joys and peak experiences, for what we've suffered and survived and what we hope for. What a remarkable species we are, poignantly clinging to our lucky charms, finding meaning and reassurance wherever we can.


darkpoet said...

I'm a sucker for an interesting, ritualistic sort of practice. I imagine it was an interesting experience, though it might have scared some away if it were paired with an introduction to the "curse" poem.

Macy Swain said...

ha ha. Good point, darkpoet. Yeah, nobody brought a voodoo doll, thankfully.