The Object Parade

The Object Parade

by Dinah Lenney


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The Object Parade by Dinah Lenney

This new collection of interconnected essays marches to a provocative premise: what if one way to understand your life was to examine the objects within it? Which objects would you choose? What memories do they hold? And lined up in a row, what stories do they have to tell?

In recalling her experience, Dinah’s essays each begin with one thing — real or imaginary, lost or found, rare or ordinary, animal, vegetable, mineral, edible. Each object comes with a memory or a story, and so sparks an opportunity for rue or reflection or confession or revelation, having to do with her coming of age as a daughter, mother, actor, and writer: the piano that holds secrets to family history and inheritance; the gifted watches that tell so much more than time; the little black dress that carries all of youth’s love and longing; the purple scarf that stands in for her journey from New York to Los Angeles, across stage and screen, to pursue her acting dream.

Read together or apart, the essays project the bountiful mosaic of life and love, of moving to Los Angeles and raising a family; of coming to terms with place, relationship, failures, and success; of dealing with up-ended notions about home and family and career and aging, too. Taken together, they add up to a pastiche of an artful and quirky life, lovingly remembered, compellingly told, wrapped up in the ties that bind the passage of time.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781619023000
Publisher: Counterpoint Press
Publication date: 04/15/2014
Pages: 240
Product dimensions: 6.20(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Dinah Lenney is the author of Bigger than Life , published in the American Lives Series at the University of Nebraska Press, and excerpted for the “Lives” column in The New York Times Sunday Magazine. She serves as core faculty for the Bennington Writing Seminars and for the Rainier Writing Workshop, and in the writing program at the University of Southern California. She has played a wide range of roles in theater and television, on shows such as ER, Murphy Brown, Law and Order, Monk, The Sarah Connor Chronicles , and Sons of Anarchy. She lives in Los Angeles.

Read an Excerpt


In the beginning—or somewhere in the middle actually—there was a parade. A parade of objects. Around a schoolyard. On a weekday morning, bright but unseasonably cold. At the appointed hour everybody—children, teachers, parents, staff—spilled out of classrooms and offices and cars, and congregated on one side of the blacktop. On the other, the calvacade assembled. My son Jake, nine or ten at the time, got in line with his mates, head, arms, and legs sticking out of a box, turquoise, equipped with a long antenna (also turquoise) and a speaker/receiver, a slightly sloping grid of black dots, painted on its face.

It had rained the night before. I remember iridescent puddles on the two-ball courts. How they contained pieces of cloud, mirrored along with wiggling oblongs of red, green, gold, purple (turquoise), poster paint colors; how the objects, shivering in anticipation and because of the chill, squeezed themselves into wedges of sunshine here and there. And then it began, to scattered cheers and applause, the kids hushed and shuffling at first, solemn and shy, but, as they rounded the first corner, increasingly jubilant: first, the isolated hop or skip, then, as if a spring had been released or a switch flicked, an exuberance of jumping and running and whooping and shouting. The occasional shove, too, of course; the elbow stuck, the heel caught, the stumble and cry, when they’d halt as one, for the pencil, who’d lost his eraser, rescued before it rolled into the wet, or the turquoise walkie-talkie who’d stopped to right his antenna, which, from the beginning, tacked to one side.

Why aren’t there pictures? There ought to be pictures. What I wouldn’t give for an image or two, alongside this hubbub of recall, of various stages of planning and building and stepping around kids on the linoleum, or looking over the tops of their heads where they sat at low tables, all of them absorbed in some phase of creation—drawing, mixing (newspaper and paste), molding, painting.

I remember that pencil, number two, bright yellow, four feet tall; and assorted fruits and vegetables; a violin, a candlestick, a spoon, a fork, a baseball bat. Was there a box of cereal? Yes—yes, I can see it, Fruit Loops, I think it was, or possibly Captain Crunch—it came up to my shoulders. And I know there was a bottle of nail polish, waist-high. Also a globe, slightly misshapen. A football. A bowling pin, a teddy bear, an alarm clock. Some forty objects, there being forty kids, third and fourth graders, in all. And the reason for the event? Celebration, culmination—a curricular punctuation point—having to do with the theory that children will understand the world if they build it for themselves. Therefore each child had picked something, some thing: taken it apart for science and math, researched its history and cultural relevance for social studies, described it in prose and poetry for language arts, and then sculpted it from papier mache, pungent at first, and then crusty and ubiquitous (for weeks it came home in their hair and their laces and under their nails), to wear in the Object Parade.

But how did they choose? For themselves for the most part, in spite of opinionated parents and siblings—from the strange, the familiar, the real, the imagined, the old, the new; from animal, vegetable, mineral, edible. It was Jake’s idea to be a walkie talkie, and he wanted to be blue—at which point we did wield our influence; convinced him that turquoise was almost blue (he pretended to be convinced anyway) since otherwise he’d have marched as a navy blue blob, no distinguishing features. As determined as I was to change his mind, I didn’t ask why—why blue? Why so dark?—just assumed it was because dark blue was his favorite. Later, long afterwards, I realized: Jake had been given a pair of walkie talkies as a present a year or two before. And think of the adventures—consider the possibilities (this before cell-phones)—the thrill of whispering from upstairs to down, from out back to out front, as if from the earth to the moon, from Alaska to the Amazon, from New York to L.A. Eventually, as happens, one of the pair got wet, or crushed, or lost, or was only misplaced, by which time the novelty had mostly worn off: still, navy blue they were, the original walkie talkies, and they’d enjoyed unprecedented status and play. I should have recognized, aesthetic considerations aside—it was the truth Jake was after for the Object Parade; the deep and resonating satisfaction and reward of a memory faithfully investigated, authentically revealed.

But is that why he wasn’t especially attached to replica-in-turquoise? Because cooperative as he’d been about the color, it was just all wrong? I wonder—I even wondered at the time why he didn’t seem to notice, much less protest, when I took the big-as-life walkie talkie down to the basement, where even so it continued to get in the way. Every time I pulled out a suitcase or went looking for last year’s tax return it toppled in my path until one day I finally dragged it out the back door, up the side of the house and onto the street, along with a hockey stick, a pair of crutches, and an old computer console. There it sat in the gutter with the rest, chipped and misshapen, its antenna bent by this time at a sickening angle. Two days later when the truck finally came, I watched from the window, relieved, at first, to get rid of the junk; but as the gears groaned and the big wheels pulled away from the curb, I admit I had this crazy urge to open the front door and follow down the hill, screaming, Wait, no.

Not that I mourned for long. For one thing, a clear-sighted friend once told me, “Don’t cry over anything that can’t cry over you.” For another, it had only been an object standing in for an object—and if some things are valuable for all time, others turn out to have a shelf life, right? But how to decide? How to account for which is which? For why I’ve held on to this and thrown away that. It isn’t as simple as size or materials or even personal taste. Certain objects, not always the ones we’d expect to keep or remember or dream about, insinuate themselves—take on a lustre in which we are reflected: by which special effect we can somehow see, if not where we’re going, where we were, and even why we are where we are. Things, all kinds—ordinary, extraordinary—tether us to place and people and the past, to feeling and thought, to each other and ourselves, to some admittedly elusive understanding of the passage of time. Things—alone and in relation to other things—tell the stories of our lives, which, once told, sometimes (not always) release their hold—not only the stories but the things themselves—allowing us, enabling us, in fact, to move on. To keep going. To have conviction, not in the idea of a master plan or puzzle —it’s not as though there’s a map or blueprint or a picture for reference on the cover of the box—only in our singularly human talent and urge to carry on as if meaning, regardless of notions of personal destiny, will emerge and accumulate. That is, once we hold an object up to the light—or maybe turn it over and give it a shake—once we believe it’s divulged its secrets, perhaps we can more easily let it go. Not that I’m ready in most cases, not yet, to do any such thing. But it’s funny to think—after the parade, it was I, not my boy, who insisted on stowing the turquoise box in the back of the minivan and taking it home. Regardless of its hue, even if we’d gotten that right, Jake would have chucked it or left it behind. He’d remembered and studied and considered and reimagined—then, at last, he’d climbed inside his creation and marched in a procession for all to see. End of story, as they say —Jake didn’t need the object anymore. As far as he was concerned, it had served its purpose.

And the parade, it turns out—his beautiful parade—had given me mine.

Table of Contents



Carpet Bag
This Old Watch
Charlie’s Piano
Dinah’s Room
The General’s Table
Piano, Too
Gertude’s Scarf

Chicken Stew
Flight Jacket
Green Earrings
Little Black Dress
Little Black Dress, Two
Ferris Wheel
Stick Kite

Two Guitars
Christmas Tree
Spice Chest
Jeans and Clogs
Letter to Dad
Instructions, As If


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The Object Parade 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
DS0 More than 1 year ago
The Object Parade is a very insightful, warm-hearted, and touching book -- one that show us how we can examine our lives by looking closely at the objects within it. Everything, or every thing, around us tells a story, or offers a memory, or provides a moment for reflection. It's a beautiful idea, one lovingly brought to life by the author, and I found the book to be deeply enriching.