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“The Object Lesson” Writing Prompt Ideas

“What things are, and what they are doing, depends on where and when they are doing it. If, then, the definition of a thing or event must include a definition of its environment, we realize that any given thing goes with a given environment so intimately and inseparably that it is more difficult to draw a clear boundary between the thing and its surroundings.”

—Alan Watts

According to Karl Marx, human beings produce inanimate objects in order to achieve a sense of fulfillment. Marx claims we produce not necessarily due to necessity, but as a means of self-expression and self-understanding. Consider for a moment: the boxes of collected items in your closet, the memories you recall via artifacts—things as your tether to the past, things that helped create who you are in this moment.

The mental gymnastics of re-calling moments back to the present is something most of us do daily, purposefully and “accidentally” too. We’re more than our stuff, and yet we spend so much of our lives accumulating stuff–to what end? “The Object Lesson,” perhaps, endeavors an answer.

Memory is a tangible link that brings us into existence and let’s us know we matter, we’ve done stuff, we’ve had an impact. Objects are links to ourselves—and to others. Do we need objects to construct our sense of self? of home?

Opening Writing Prompt Option One.
Do you have an attic? maybe at your grandparent’s or at home?—what sort of objects, stuff, does the attic house? ChooseТ an objectТ from your attic (or some other) space. Write a piece from the perspective of this inanimate object endowing the object with an identity and personified sense of self. Consider documenting your choice in a creative photograph.Т 

I am stuck inside a musty box with three friends very much like me. Different shapes and colors, we’re unique and yet our purpose is mostly the same. We create magic and art. We are filled with limitless possibility. We sit eagerly, hoping to be chosen by the writer, by the artist, by the warm hand of our Gods. Which one of us will They want to use to describe, to draw, to capture?—I pray it be me, and not my neon rival. Without us, humans would be pent up, wishing there were something, some way to describe what they are feeling. With us, They start and end love affairs, armed conflicts, and give meaning to Their very lives. We may be unappreciated and we may be small, but we are a very important invention that has altered and will continue to alter the course of Their evolution.

Opening Writing Prompt Option Two.
In the museum of your life, what is your most prized possession and why? Pretend your artifact is on display in some future museum. Write the museum label for this item.

In a museum, object labels describe the individual object displayed. Typically the title of the work or a descriptive title phrase is given, followed by the date and place of creation, and the materials or technique of the object. There should be a brief description or commentary. An accession number is often given, and often the accession date. Some prefer in an object label a one word title followed by a 25–50 word description for the museum label. People want specific aspects of the object they might not notice at first glance or might not have already known (i.e. something unusual, material made of, date of artifact, who made). Most people want to know specifics like when it was made, why it was made, usage and when it became part of the museum.

Opening Writing Prompt Option Three.
Emma Forrest ponders, “Some people fear that they are no more than the sum of their cultural reference points: the books read, films seen, the posters on the walls, and records on rotation. I am happy to admit this. What then remains, for a vampire of pop culture when love is over? What of the books loaned, the records recommended? What gets passed to the next lover, what gets sold for cash at Rebel Rebel? When a relationship ends, I sell none of it, filing it all away for future reference, marveling at how the most dreadful person can turn you on to the most beautiful film or music. These gifts, given in ego—this is me, this is me, have some more of me—are like transferable tattoos. These books and videos, they are stronger than those ephemeral fights, even the ephemeral [lovemaking]. … When someone you love dies, it is common to take on some of their traits in order to keep them alive. The loss of love is like mourning, instead of tics you keep records, books, movies.” Write about a challenging human relationship that facilitated your new found love of some object, “gift,” or “cultural reference point given in ego.” Explore the term of this relationship and the item(s) you gained and the changes this fostered—if any—within you.

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