top of page

Meaningful Objects

From the Open Page | Selection by Elizabeth Schmuhl

Despite the D.C. humidity and cloudless sky, I went running on Roosevelt Island after work with a coworker. We finally made it to the tree-shaded dirt paths when she asked me about my shorts. My willingness to answer led her to ask another question, "What's dangling from your gold necklaces?”

After telling her about the different pieces I’ve added to the metal strands around my neck (so they could be closer to my heart), she laughingly asked, "Does everything you own have a story behind it?"

I don't think I'm alone in wanting the objects I choose to keep in my life to have significance. I'm always trying to de-clutter, and I find excess distracting and off-putting. But my coworker's comment also re-illuminated something I know to be true for me as an artist: objects carry meaning.

I’ve been using the following exercise to help me write a text about my relationship to movement as a dancer throughout my life and it’s been an invaluable way for me to begin to excavate this topic and shape my writing into a book.

Let's Get Started

1. Select five to ten images of objects

They can be photographs you've taken, images you find online, or, if you like to draw or paint, create your own original pieces.

2. Write captions for each image

The captions shoul be 2-4 sentences in length. If possible, try to find an emotional connection between the objects that can be explored via the captions.

3. Experiment with an order in which to place these multidisciplinary pieces

This can be chronological, associational, etc. You might want want to have each on separate pieces of paper to be able to easily arrange them, or electronically edit the page order until you create a sequence you like.

Tip: As an idea for expanding the piece, rewrite all of the captions to be a social media post (you can find templates online for free and edit the content). Include comments from other followers, number of likes, etc. to help build a complete poem/hybrid piece.

You can find this writing exercise, along with many others, in Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing's anthology:


About the book: This 300-page book collects creative writing exercises and award-winning stories, essays, and poetry from some of our most beloved instructors from the past 10 years, and captures the magic of our program in its pages. Both a craft-book as well as an anthology of award-winning fiction, poetry, and creative nonfiction, this book is the perfect way to bring the magic of MVICW with you into the coming year!

About the writer: Elizabeth Schmuhl is a multidisciplinary artist and the author of Premonitions (Wayne State University Press) and Presto Agitato: A Dictionary of Modern Movement (Zoo Cake Press & Dancing Girl Press). Her book of paintings created with natural ink from her farm, The Four Seasons, is out from Greying Ghost. She illustrates essays for The Rumpus, has taught writing at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and worked in digital development at the Kennedy Center for Performing Arts. She is Shamel Pitts’ Artistic Manager and also works at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. She recently performed at the Detroit Institute of Arts for the Detroit Dance Festival. Her work appears in Michigan Quarterly Review, PANK, Hobart, Dance Magazine, and elsewhere.


bottom of page