No Self But in Objects: An Essay & Memoir Workshop
This workshop is part of our Memoir & Creative Nonfiction Week.
This generative workshop will explore how we reveal ourselves (in fact how we construct our selves) through thinking about, looking at, and playing with sorts of objects that we encounter every day but rarely think about. William Carlos Williams may have told us “no ideas but in things,” but let’s agree to mishear him: what he meant is how our intimacies with objects reveal us. That is, in order to write about the slippery, secretive self, we need to turn our attention to things, and in writing about them the self is not only revealed but made. So we will write about objects both meaningful and seemingly-meaningless: snow globes, songs, empty hotel lobbies, maps of mines, the scents of remembered perfumes, our mothers’ pendants, our fathers’ collections of antique levels, baseball cards, books, the Beanie Babies we for some reason bought hundreds of. We invest a great deal of emotional and psychological energy in our things—especially so if we are collectors of one sort or another, as many writers are. Orhan Pamuk, in his “A Modest Manifesto for Museums” (from The Innocence of Objects), argues for the importance of “smaller, more individualistic, and cheaper” museums, museums of the individual, museums that “re-create the world of single human beings…that tell the stories of individuals.” Our homes and rooms are these museums. Our essays and memoirs are these museums. Our objects that we own own us, and through writing about and at them we reveal ourselves. We don’t write about the things that populate the museums of our lives often enough. We will this week.
Ander Monson is the author of eight books, including the forthcoming I Will Take the Answer and The Gnome Stories, both from Graywolf. He edits the magazine DIAGRAM, Essay Daily, and March Vladness, among other projects, and he directs the MFA program at the University of Arizona.