The objects that matter to us as people, do we find them or do they find us? How do we end up with all the bits and pieces, odds and ends that seem to multiply when we have to gather them up and move them?
My Big Bro piqued my curiosity a few weeks back, when were jawing about music. I had just sent him some requests to burn digital versions of some songs to disk; I had this cockeyed idea for a compilation that had been swirling around in my head. Not having access to iTunes at the time, Big Bro was my main source for said digital delights. (No, he wasn’t pirating anything. Arrr!). After having burned the disk, he asked me, “Where do find this stuff?” – I think the song in question was “In The Pines” by Leadbelly – “How do you know where to get it?”
My response was on the order of something like “I don’t for sure. I think that like seeks out like, and over time, if you know what you like, you develop a sense of how to find it. Plus, you’ll be more likely to have a receptive mind when you come across something new, you’ll be more willing to listen”. At least, I think that is what I said.
Over the years, I have accrued a number of objects that seem to have just shown up, and have followed me across nearly nineteen years of my erstwhile architectural career. I know this because I had to clear out my desk when I was laid off about two weeks ago. When you have to move a lot of crap, is when you notice you have a lot of crap. Herewith is a sampling of the flotsam and jetsam I have inventoried:
-Small collection of plastic triangles, for pencil drafting (Ha! Computers, man, the latest rage!)
-Bizarro templates for drawing toilets and sinks and other doohickeys
-Really weird plaster sculpture of what looks to be a mutant trying to gouge his own eyes out
-Hand-blown glass bottle I recovered from a renovation project site in Washington, D.C.
-Tiny brass desk gong complete with a little brass rod for striking the gong
-Ceramic sake carafe, grey, with painted blue bamboo stalks and leaves
-Tiny clay brick, promotional trinket I got at a trade show years ago
-Notepad holder made out of a giant steel hinge, the word INTEGRITY stamped on one leaf
-Notepad holder made out of recycled corrugated galvanized metal roof panels
-Clipboard made out of little chunks of cedar glued together, sanded, sealed and polished
-“Sculping”, a chunk of slate the size of a large brick, really HEAVY and pretty
-Textbooks leftover from my college days (Uh, time to ditch ‘em, yeah?)
-The letter “K”, 2” tall by 1” deep made out of anodized aluminum
- Small pennant with a picture of that Taco Bell dog on it, says “Viva Gorditas!” on it
That last one is one of the weirdest things I still have that I cannot seem to just get rid of. Some items that have gone AWOL are an 8” square glass brick (3” thick and solid) and a coffee mug with the logo of the former KGB silkscreened on it. Oh, wait, the KGB mug bit the dust about ten years ago when I dragged it off my desk top with a phone cord.
The last one I had to pick up today, from my (former) office, because I had forgotten to pack it up when I left. It is a giant mug, ceramic, brownish, kinda homely. This mug probably holds 3 regular cups of coffee. I have been brewing tea in it for years, so it has acquired a ‘patina’ on the inside that defied washing away. Probably made the tea taste better anyway. What amazed me was just how…naked(?)…I felt without that mug in my hand in the morning for that first cup of tea. I was antsy without it. I had a ritual associated with this mug when I came into work in the mornings. And when I picked it up this afternoon, I realized that it wasn’t just the mug or the ritual I was missing. It was the people that were usually present when I was drinking my tea. The people who always teased me about the humungo size of the mug:
“Where’s the tanker?”
“Got enough to drink there?
“Is that a soup bowl, or a helmet?”
And my favorite:
“That thing is the size of your face!”
So when I picked up my mug, and I saw some of the people I am beginning to miss, I think I understood something of what these objects mean. The things we acquire, the trinkets and curios of the lives we live, stick with us for a reason. They mean something to us beyond the mere fact of their existence. They gain power through their constant presence and use. They carry with them, in subtle and critical ways, the memory of the people and places and circumstances that make us the human beings we become.
I like my big, ugly mug. It carries tea, and my life.