I have an obsession. So does my husband. We collect things. As artists, objects are very important to us. They inspire us, push us beyond our creative boundaries, hold magic for us. Every journey we make, even the most ordinary, becomes an opportunity to discover a new “gift” for our collection. These items are usually not purchasable. Often these objects are found discarded on a street or washed ashore. We have been collecting all our lives and this collecting fever was no doubt one of the many things that first attracted us to one another. And now as we are creeping up in years, we wonder what will happen to all of these “things.”
When I was a teacher (retired now), I used pieces of our collection as “show and tell” for my students– as artifacts of a particular time period, as prompts for writing, as illustrations of particular processes, as a means of creatively making some kind of point about “life,” or simply as pure enjoyment. The students loved these “show and tells.” Passing the objects around elicited stories from all of them. It also encouraged them to share their own, sometimes “secret,” collections. It made us all feel closer.
In order to get guests to interact with the collection and its stories, we have often invited them to choose objects from our collection and put them on a special shelf by our front door. They can put as many objects there as can fit or as few as they wish. In this way their choices influence our comings and goings until the next guests change the objects on the shelf.
I have been retired for almost 4 years now. JB has been retired for many more. With sheltering in place, there are no guests to select objects to fill our special shelf. I walk by the shelf (pictured above) and stare at the metal fingertip my father used in his magic acts, pick up the small plexiglass box filled with broken greenhouse glass from the Garfield Park Conservatory caused by golf ball sized hail on 6/30/2011, admire the brass knuckles used by JB’s aunt on her walk home from her job at the bank, notice the fading of color from the plastic Jayne Mansfield hot water bottle, remember the student who gave me the dried rose attached to his rewriting of Whitman’s “Song of Myself” which is leaning against the Peruvian mummy dolls and the Mexican Saint’s wallet complete with a miniature rosary. Surprisingly I find, as I write this list, a diminishing sense of attachment to these objects.
I wonder what will become of them all — these stories, these objects, these connections. I am moved to do something intentional with its dispersal, but am uncertain what shape that intentionality would take. Collections work best when they are an active part of your life. When they reflect the process and the journey of living. When they reflect the meaning you are making of your life. When you are gone, the collection is without grounding and that sense of value, vitality, and discovery disappear. The collection becomes merely “stuff,” even junk. I am realizing the process of just letting go of it all is as important, creative, and sacred (maybe even more so) as was its gathering.