LOST OBJECTS (36)
November 2, 2019
One in an ongoing series of nonfiction stories about lost objects. In 2017, Project:Object’s Josh Glenn and Rob Walker asked 25 writers to tell us about a significant object they’d lost (or thrown away, or destroyed), then assigned these stories to 25 illustrators. The first Lost Objects series was such a hit with readers, and so fun for us to publish, that we’ve decided it deserves a sequel.
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In those days, when I felt like crawling out of my skin, I’d buy a pack of cigarettes and just walk and smoke for however long it took for the intense frustration to pass. Sometimes I’d walk all night and into the next day.
One night, in the course of my mental and physical meanderings, I began feeling very certain that if I could make something — something really elegant — the unbearable feeling I had whenever I stood still would subside. But I was beyond broke — regularly choosing between cigarettes and food — and had no “making things” skills whatsoever.
My objective went from “Move! Move! Move! Keep moving!” to “Keep moving until you find something specific.”
At some point before dawn, I found myself in a neighborhood far nicer than my own — and it was trash night.
What I’d been looking for, it turned out, was a pile of china that someone was throwing away: boxes and stacks of plates, cups, glasses. I was four or five miles from home — so I sorted the china carefully, creating one carry-able box of plates, saucers, teacups. I had no plan, but I had the box.
When I got home, I spread the china out on my living room floor and looked at it.
As it got light out, I took several glazed bisque plates, put them in a pillowcase and placed them on a folded towel. Then I got a hammer and smashed them to bits.
I poured the bits out on the floor and looked at them some more, then carefully picked certain shards and chips from the larger pile, plunking them one by one into one of the teacups — a thin-walled, wide-mouthed, midcentury, cerulean blue teacup with a narrow handle. Each shard sounded like a little chime as it dropped into the cup, and soon I had more than half a teacup full of shards.
It looked like a cup of babies’ teeth.
When I sifted the shards through my fingers, they felt good: tinkling against one another and the cup’s walls as they dropped, offering, when handled, full awareness of their sharpness and fragility at the same time. Musical in motion, gleaming when silent, classical looking because of the whiteness against a blue ground, interactive, elegant: I had just made art.
And the crawling-out-of-my-skin feeling was gone.
I kept the piece on a bookshelf and played with the shards as sort of self-soothing, zen activity when my mind was restless. Visitors played with it too.
A few years later, in the course of moving, I packed newspaper into the top of the cup and then wrapped the whole thing in more newspaper, taping it and entombing it all in a small carton of its own — before packing it in a larger box.
I don’t remember ever seeing it again, after that.
I learned so much from making this one thing. To this day, I’ve not made many things that I think were more elegant…
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: See sidebar.
ABOUT THE ARTIST: Matt Wuerker is the award-winning staff cartoonist for Politico.
LOST OBJECTS 2: INTRODUCTION | Geoff Manaugh on MOROCCAN TRINKET (ill. Mariana Pita) | Joe Yonan on MACRAMÉ ART (ill. Theo Ellsworth) | Laura Lippman on LABYRINTH GAME (ill. Laura Didyk) | Ben Katchor on LUCITE CARRYING CASE | Neil LaBute on PICKLED OCTOPUS (ill. Disa Wallander) | Miranda Mellis on SEQUINED SCARF (ill. Adam Goldberg) | Chris Piascik on GENERAL HUSTLER BMX | Jenny Kroik on MISSING TOY PIECES | Anita Kunz on FLOWER NECKLACE | Debbie Millman on GLASS POODLE | Heather Kapplow on CERAMIC ARTWORK (ill. Matt Wuerker) | Lydia Millet on ROCKY HORROR NOVEL (ill. Berta Valló) | Ben Greenman on WARHOL CAN (ill. Clara Selina Bach) | Leah Hennessey on BATMAN RING (ill. Dean Haspiel) | Kathryn Davis on PRAYER CARD (ill. Dina Noto) | Mikita Brottman on PINK ELEPHANTS (ill. Sarah Williamson) | Nathaniel Rich on AUTOGRAPHED BASEBALL (ill. Ellen Rose) | Charles Glaubitz on TRACK SHOES | Seth on ENTERPRISE MODEL | Becky Stern on SKELETON SWEATER (ill. Monica Garwood) | Mark Dery on GRANDFATHER PHOTO (ill. Kelli Anderson) | Paola Antonelli on VINYL SKIRT (ill. Guillermo Meraz) | Sara Ryan on FINGER PUPPET (ill. Steve Lieber) | Alex Gerasev on KARMA PARKA | Margaret Wertheim on ECCENTRIC BOOK (ill. Armando Veve).
FETISHES: INTRODUCTION | Josh Foer on DEATH MASK | Beth Lisick on MURDERED-OUT KFC BUCKET | Christina Couch on LEECH ACTION FIGURE | Kenneth Goldsmith on THEWLIS SOCK | Abby Rapoport on MAGNATILES | & 20 MORE.
FOSSILS: INTRODUCTION | Allegra Huston on SKATAWAY JACKET | Kevin Obsatz on HOMEMADE NUNCHUKS | Ian Bogost on DESKTOP TELEPHONE | Jeff Lewonczyk on CHA-CHA JACKET SCRAP | Kelly Horan on VOLVO KEY | & 20 MORE.
FLAIR: INTRODUCTION | Cliff Kuang on ROLEX DATEJUST | Ethan Zuckerman on LAPTOP STICKERS | Ann Shoket on LEATHER JACKET | Kembrew McLeod on KEMBREW MERCH | Paola Antonelli on MERMAID TEARS | & 20 MORE.
LOST OBJECTS (vol. 1): INTRODUCTION | Kate Bernheimer on MULLET WIG (ill. Amy Evans) | Dan Piepenbring on COLOGNE (ill. Josh Neufeld) | Doug Dorst on STRATOCASTER (ill. John Holbo) | Paul Lukas on VANILLA BEAN (ill. Allison Bamcat) | Mimi Lipson on DODGE DART (ill. Mister Reusch) | & 20 MORE.
ILLICIT OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Kio Stark on PEEPSHOW TOKEN | Sari Wilson on TOMBSTONE PARTS | Annalee Newitz on CAR-BOMB REMNANT | Tito Bottitta on MOONINITE DEVICE | Eric Bennett on DIRTY MAGAZINE | & 20 MORE.
TALISMANIC OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Veda Hille on CROCHET SHEEP | Gary Panter on DINOSAUR BONES | Jami Attenberg on SELENITE CRYSTAL | Annie Nocenti on MINIATURE DICE | Wayne Curtis on CLOCK WINDING KEY | & 20 MORE.
POLITICAL OBJECTS: INTRODUCTION | Luc Sante on CAMPAIGN PAMPHLETS | Lydia Millet on PVC POLAR BEAR | Ben Greenman on MATCHBOX CAR | Rob Baedeker on PRESIDENTS PLACEMAT | L.A. Kauffman on WHEATPASTE POSTER | & 20 MORE.
SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS at HILOBROW: PROJECT:OBJECT homepage | PROJECT:OBJECT newsletter | PROJECT:OBJECT objects (Threadless shop — all profits donated to the ACLU) | POLITICAL OBJECTS series (1Q2017) | TALISMANIC OBJECTS series (2Q2017) | ILLICIT OBJECTS series (3Q2017) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 1 series (4Q2017) | FLAIR series (2Q2018) | FOSSIL series (4Q2018) | FETISHES series (2Q2019) | LOST OBJECTS vol. 2 series (4Q2019) | MOVIE OBJECTS series (2Q2020). ALSO SEE: SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS website | SIGNIFICANT OBJECTS collection, ed. Rob Walker and Josh Glenn (Fantagraphics, 2012) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY, ed. Josh Glenn (Princeton Architectural Press, 2007) | TAKING THINGS SERIOUSLY excerpts.