Consider the bowl. Not the Super Bowl. Not the Hollywood Bowl. The plain, ordinary, everyday bowl. “A round, deep dish or basin used for food or liquid” (dictionary.com). A pretty simple thing. A depression in a stone would serve, though certainly other things work better—pottery, basketry, metal, wood, glass. Has there ever been a single day of your life when you haven’t used a bowl, at least once?
Now consider this: at one time, long ago, there were no bowls. Really. Someone had to invent the bowl. And before there were bowls—or buckets, jars, and other bowl-like objects—there was no way to carry or store water. Kind of changes your thinking about the importance of bowls, doesn’t it? What we would do without them?
I’ve blogged this week about objects: possessions on Monday, sacred objects on Tuesday. Today, I’m turning my focus to everyday objects—the kinds of things we totally take for granted but would be lost without. I’m not talking about iPads and smart phones here, or even about television and cars. I’m talking about the little things that use no electricity, cost next to nothing, and are utterly indispensable.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about common objects while writing my young-adult novel. The novel takes place in the mid-19th century. When I was first starting on it, I realized I didn’t know a lot about the common objects used at the time. Had the fountain pen been invented or were they still dipping quills into inkwells? Was there linoleum? How about box-spring mattresses? In one scene my protagonist is in a dark room trying to light a candle. I had to look up the history of matches because I wasn’t sure whether they existed then. I was surprised to learn how recently matches came into existence. Before then, people had to carry around flint boxes. When matches first came out, it must have been, like,You’ve got to be kidding. This is fantastic!
The same goes for all kinds of things we never think about. Chairs! Forks! Doorknobs! String! Windows made of glass! None of these things invented itself. There was a time when people did without them. Imagine life without nails or screws, hinges or keys or the humble rubber band.
Writing about everyday objects—about a few of the hundreds and hundreds of little things we need and use and rely on—is an exercise in mindfulness and appreciation. It helps you develop gratitude for the small conveniences we enjoy and for the brilliance of our ancestors who created these things, gave them to the world, and left them to the generations that would follow. I never would have imagined that writing about window blinds or scrub brushes would give me a sense of wonder about the world, until I tried it. Suddenly, things that seemed utterly humdrum and banal became inspiring and extraordinary.
Give it a try. Pick the most ordinary, commonplace object you can. Write about what it does for you, what it has given the world, what life would be like without it. Do a little research to discover when it was invented and what people did before. The toothpick. The colander. The ladder. What marvels they are.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...