Last night, I woke up in the middle of the night, disoriented and somewhat surprised that I was in my bed rather than out on the lawn surrounded by piles of my possessions. You see, there was a lingering image, much like a fading black and white photograph, of us standing proudly in front of a mountain of stuff stacked higgledy-piggledy. All of a sudden memory flashbacked to a photo with deckle edges, of Mother and Father, arm in arm, standing beside the family DKW. Father had rested his possessive hand on the hood of the car. My dream photograph had that same quality – of pride of possession.
A good friend has been recently moving her worldly possessions from a house she shared with her mother into her newly bought home. Not only had she to move thirty years worth of art production, archived so carefully, but also to dismantle her Mother’s estate, disperse her goods among siblings, clear out the house and sell it off. Her Mother had died, leaving behind a lifetime of memories and accumulations. It has been a Protean physical and emotional labour for my friend to move on. And still her work continues. Will she come out at the other end of this work a new butterfly out of its crysalis? I like to think so.
I think back on the difficult relationship I have had with stuff most of my life. This may be rooted, perhaps, in having to leave a life and all of its trappings behind at the age of ten. There a sudden truth was revealed – stuff is stuff, necessary but also an impediment, much of it superfluous and yet so much of how we position our worth in society depends on this collection. And at the end of a life, it is left behind to be dispersed. No more important really than the leaves we rake together into a pile at the end of Fall.
Maybe this attitude explains my penchant for giving things away if people indicate they are partial to them. I remember a student back in 1983 who expressed shock and surprise after I gave her a drawing of mine she was especially interested in. It was a drawing into which I had invested heart and soul in the doing and making of. This student was not one of my favourite ones. She was difficult, obstructive and unco-operative in class. Yet she had a special spark and curiosity, a lust for living. She constantly asked pointed questions. She asked the right questions about the drawing and thus it needed to go to her. She may or may not still have it. That is not important. The drawing served its purpose for both of us, for me in the making and for her, in the contemplation of it.
I am sitting here, sipping the morning cup, thinking of how to divest myself of this mountain of stuff. I have to clear house, and move on to leave space for further experiences. The material weighs me down.