Greetings! I'm back from a recent trip to St. Paul where Johntimothy and I orchestrated the move of all the household belongings of his mom to Florida. She's a collector....a collector and saver of absolutely everything from absolutely everywhere. Maybe that gives you a picture of the amount of stuff to sort, organize, toss, recycle or have packed for the move. On more than one occasion I was overwhelmed and felt the shift in my own psyche as I confronted my own thoughts (and a history of blogposts) about objects and memory, remembering and forgetting.
I've long held the belief that objects hold memory and serve as kind of souvenirs of experience. We surround ourselves with the objects that hold meaning for us and in a metaphoric way, perhaps in a physical sense as well, they are silent witnesses to the events unfolding in our lives from day to day. But when faced with the mountains of "stuff" amassed over the course of a long life, I felt my assumptions challenged and a host of new questions rising to the surface.
While the objects we live with might well outlast us and echo the memories of our lives, don't our memories live inside us? Don't the experiences of our lives become part and parcel of our physical beings in some way, much as all the meals we have enjoyed become part of our bodies along with adding to the accumulation of our memorable moments?
While I am happy to donate items no longer needed (and there was much of that going on in St. Paul), I find it very difficult myself to be in thrift stores, consignment shops and the like and I'm not exactly sure why. Is it because I find myself in the midst of the mountain of cast off objects that bear the weight of their previous histories? So many people enjoy hunting for treasures in such places and I think it is just wonderful to give a home to something uncovered that will find a new use in a new setting. But, as for me.....I just want to flee.
And that has led me to wonder about the plethora of consignment shops and thrift stores across the land. As our consumer culture reaches a saturation point, there are more and more of these places, and I wonder if there has been research done about their rise and prominence as a reflection of our material desires. Many such organizations in towns large and small do great work in assisting with job training, philanthropy and providing much need social services and I surely applaud them. But what does it all say about our culture and our insatiable need to acquire, to hang on and when it is we are finally prompted to let go?
At one point over the course of the week, Johntimothy and I took the afternoon off and headed to the beloved Minneapolis Institute of Art, where we both found ourselves drawn first to the Asian galleries, with their sense of spare and elegant calm. We needed the opposite of what we'd been confronting. As always, but maybe more than ever, we appreciated the careful consideration of space, object placement and simple elegance. As a bonus, we found ourselves inspired with new ideas for our own collaborative work, which we plan to begin soon!
All of this is not to say that Johntimothy and I don't have our own issues with having too much stuff and that may have also been at the core of my unease. What is important and what is truly meaningful? If everything is saved as something meaningful and significant, then is any of it truly meaningful? If everything is special, then nothing stands out and nothing is, in fact, "special."
Now that we are home and settled back in, our own purge has begun....ritual burning, as Johntimothy has termed it. Old artwork from decades ago that has been cluttering file drawers and boxes, papers saved for no particular reason...or perhaps one that is lost to memory. It's the beginning of letting go of the clutter of our own lives.
The new piece at the top of this post, Explorer's Notebooks, no.4, was made just the other day, as a way to unravel all these thoughts....my own explorations into ideas about saving, collecting, clutter, chaos, creating order and the desire for simple elegance....at the center of which is a metaphoric spare white box holding a few well chosen objects.
That fire in our fire pit, pictured above, was one of any number of them we've had over the last several days. Last evening, we had another ritual burn as the sun was setting behind us over the river. I am reminded that the course of each of our lives is a process, a quest for understanding, along with overcoming challenges and celebrating simple joys. I was thankful for a ritual fire on a cool summer night and another beautiful sunset on the Missouri.