Saturday, February 9, 2008


This week the assignments in Daily Themes ask students to write about objects in a variety of ways. None of the assignments require the consideration of how things oppress us, but that was my pointed little reflection this morning as I made coffee. My thoughts might have been inspired by DT, but more likely it had something to do with a certain "morning after" flavor to the start of the day. Not that Friday night was hot and wild, but I will admit to feeling no pain -- well, more or less -- thanks to a nice perky Chilean red I drank more of than was strictly necessary as dinner libation.

No matter. It felt good. But then in the morning came that perhaps inevitably jaundiced appraisal of the things around me. It's not that the things I own are so tired and threadbare, cracked and old and over-used -- though no doubt some of them are -- it's that they carry with them "little stories": each thing leapt to my mind as though tagged with the story of its origin in my life, the time and place it came aboard, joined itself to the ongoing tale of my life, bringing its note of newness long since faded, long since gone mute. It's as if, standing in my kitchen, no matter where my eye fell there was some object which had seen service for far too many years -- and those years seemed to accrue for no other reason than to suggest how far I'd come in time but with so little to show.

If it were an animated movie, the objects might come to life and declaim, sing, exhort, rebuke. But no. They just sit there, oppressing me with their object-ness, their tiresome ability to be always the same (unless they break or get lost). They don't look upon me the way a pet might; they simply cause me to look upon myself, surrounded by the familiar, by repetition. It's not even that one desires to bring the known to an end -- though at times it would seem an amazing breath of fresh air -- so much as not to have to contemplate the "eras" that have interposed between the first use and umpteenth.

This seems a theme I'm prone to; more than once the feeling of our own ephemerality when faced with the resolute stability of objects has been a theme in my writing. It may be simply another facet of a morbid fascination with time, but what interests me in the familiarity of objects is how it makes one feel old, whereas the familiarity of a movie or a book or a record album makes one feel younger, or at least lively with the joy of whatever about it gave one joy in the first place. But objects? Maybe there are works of art one could have around, made things that inspire, and those would fulfill the function of those eternal things -- like songs and so forth -- but what about the everyday objects, not meant for contemplation, meant only for use, when one finds oneself contemplating them, and the story, full of implication, they tell of who we are and were?

Mama's in the factory
She ain't got no shoes
Daddy's in the alley
He's lookin' for food
And I'm in the kitchen
With the tombstone blues.
--Bob Dylan, "Tombstone Blues" (1965)

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