Gathering and Letting Go

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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.

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9 Responses to Gathering and Letting Go

  1. mhorvich says:

    Heavy … but true. Without the collector, the collections lose their, vitality meaning, life. Maybe you could find someplace to take the collections and let them receive a new life?

  2. Jerome B.Bloom says:

    NEXT TIME WE HAVE VISITORS WE SHOULD ASK EACH PERSON TO SELECT AN ITEM OR TWO TO TAKE WITH THEM WHEN LEAVING. IF WE NEED TO KNOW WHO HAS WHAT WE COULD IMAGE THEM AND CREATE A DESK TOP FOLDER FOR MEMORIES SAKE OR NOT AND JUST LET STUFF GO. A HOLE IN BACK YARD WOULD BE AN INTERESTING DEPOSITORY OR A LARGER HOLE AT K&S FARM. BURYING THEM LIKE THE ARTIST IN THE NOVEL WE READ. LETTING GO IS GOOD, LET’S START.

    • mhorvich says:

      I would love to go “shopping” among your collections. I’ll bring my shopping cart 🙂

    • Susan Minard says:

      Much like art, when an object leaves the hands of the creator or possessor, it becomes whatever the next beholder sees in it – so much hope for new worth and meaning (or demise).

      JB’s idea of offering an item or two to visitors is a beautiful way to recycle and even upcycle pieces of your amazing collection – it keeps on giving. Remember when you found each object and how excited you were to cross paths after someone else let it go? When you set them free, you never know what they will mean to someone. And you take with you their meaning to you. I write this after watering our gardens knowing we will soon be leaving all of our beautiful plants behind as we move to the farm. 20 plus years and we are walking away, just as you are contemplating leaving your collection behind. The objects, the plants; they go on without us and maybe that is part of the pain and wonder of letting go.

      • mhorvich says:

        So well said. We all leave so many things behind as our lives go on and ususally never know the impact they have or had on those who follow or who picked up the pieces.

      • jyourist says:

        Such profound wisdom, Susan. You are so right. Our discovery of these objects usually meant someone else (or nature) had let them go. It is now our opportunity (with intention) to keep the cycle going — “part of the pain and wonder of letting go.”

  3. Jake says:

    So Jan when do we start???

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