Then I zoomed home from St. Johns, picked up my family, and we were privileged to attend the opening of the e-merge 2010 art exhibit at the Bullseye Gallery. Fellow writer and artist Greg Bell had a piece accepted into this prestigious show. All of the pieces were some kind of glass-work, of which I know nothing. My lack of knowledge of process allowed me to view each piece simply for its beauty, delicacy, and astounding visual impact. They were all stunning pieces. I was quite amazed by the iterations of form. Greg's piece was beautiful and, for me, evoked a thoughtful, timeless leap into what could be the origins of the universe.
Pretty heady stuff, the stimulation of words and art. I am moved by what opens up in response. We connect instinctively to those objects around us, even the most mundane items of our daily lives. It is why we buy souvenirs at the London Underground gift shop, keep the pens from the Hilton at the Walt Disney World Resort, save the photos of our last visit to the coast, and still have a cardboard box in the attic full of papers, trinkets and beer bottle caps from when we were in college.
I heard the term "sacred objects" from Stevan and Joanna Rose during a writing session at the Pinewood Table, but the theory is not new. Raymond Carver wrote about it in his essay "On Writing" (Fires, pg 15):
"It's possible, in a poem or a short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things—a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman's earring—with immense, even startling power."
The secret, if that's what it could be called, is that the objects themselves are not what moves us; it is our own human context to which we respond. John Gardner wrote, "Fiction seeks out truth." (The Art of Fiction, pg 79) We respond to those great human truths that are the basis of all of human emotions as they filter down and are applied to our own experiences.
The glass Radio Flyer in the art exhibition touched my memory of the day I came home from the hospital with my second daughter and gifted my oldest, then two and a half years old, with her own red wagon to go along with her new baby sister. My emotional response was emphasized by the fact that both of these daughters stood with me at the gallery, grown now and in their early 20s, beautiful, unique, intelligent and creative. It was a sweeping feeling of joy and pride—deep emotions evoked by this single object of art.
John Gardner goes on (pg 80):
"Restating old truths and adapting them to the age, applying them in ways they were never before applied, stirring up emotion by the inherent power of narrative, visual image, or music, artists crack the door to the morally necessary future. The age-old idea of human dignity comes to apply even to the indigent, even to slaves, even to immigrants, now recently even to women."
(I laugh at this quote every time I read it because of the last phrase—but that is another tangent of thought.)
The objects that recur in my own writing are often simple—coffee cup, ring, candle, rolling pin—or those thrilling one-time discoveries of the unusual or unexpected that then become endowed with the power of the moment—rabbit's foot, found arrowhead, hand-tied marabou jig, or a single 9mm bullet scarred along the cap. What life-changing moments are attached to each of these sacred objects? To clarify the truths connected to those moments is the ongoing challenge.
I write forward with purpose, having worked through Gardner's exercise suggestions to the final one that is the last line of The Art of Fiction:
30. Write a fabulous story using anything you need.