Inspiration Sold Separately!


You may remember that I recently taught a workshop where I asked the students to write stories in the form of catalogs.

I realized something while preparing for it. While it’s true that junk mail refuses to die, even in a world where Print is supposedly shaking a death rattle, catalogs just aren’t the artifacts for the 12 – 15 year olds in my class that they were for me at their age. I doubt any of their families keep photo albums. If they do, they call them scrapbooks.

This meant there was a bit of a communication gap when it came time to describing how and why catalogs make for compelling, innovative storytelling vehicles. It didn’t help that my main example, (deep breath) Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris, Including Books, Street Fashion, and Jewelry is not age-appropriate (due to lack of life experience on the part of the students) even though it is PG, content-wise. Neither is a reference to Norton’s narration in the beginning of Fight Club.

If you have any ideas on how to update this workshop for the (cringe) Millennial generation, I’d love to hear it. Something to do with on-line shopping perhaps? Or maybe I should just wait until the hipsters reclaim analog purchasing methods along with rendering their own lard.

Generation gaps aside, preparing for the workshop helped me realize that determining what a person might own is a great way to build a character. I think of it as my twist on Alice Munro’s maxim that you should always decide what a character would carry in her purse (or his wallet or backpack).



May 29, 2012 · 10:15 AM

4 responses to “Inspiration Sold Separately!

  1. Meredith

    I’ve started (inexplicably) receiving the Restoration Hardware catalog. It is HUGE, and the photos have been bizarre lately. Lots of books on shelves with no covers, e.g. naked textblocks with their spines staring at you. Would be a great prompt for a story! But perhaps also not age-appropriate. 🙂

  2. I think analog has forever been relegated to the museum. Don’t hold out too much hope on a comeback. The up and coming millennial version of the catalog is Pinterest, which presents the latest incarnation in the form of a mash-up of online scrapbooking and shopping. Till something new comes along, of course. See if you can play that into your workshop. Far more appealing to students than the multitude of yawn worthy amazon’esque online shops.

  3. Hmmm, well in terms of “catalog” that is what PinInterest is – one giant, catalog of fun projects and recipes that is self-curated and has gone beyond recipes and patterns at this point. It’s also sort of an on-line scrapbook of sorts, like how Evernote is just more public. On-line shopping might be your best bet though – you run a search and then narrow it to maybe only toys or only books and that creates a “catalog” from which you order. That is sad though that this current generation will never know the anticipation of waiting for the toy catalogs to arrive every fall to make their Christmas lists.

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