December 18, 2011

Things About Things


I’ve been thinking about things. I mean things in the sense of objects. This was brought on by Seymour, by writing about him.

I had a stuffed monkey of my own once. His name was Zip. I would put on puppet shows with him. I know this because there’s a photo of me doing it. However I don’t remember feeling affection for Zip, and I certainly didn’t talk to him or play with him. He was a prop, nothing more.

Seymour, despite his utilitarian role, is not a prop. Rather he’s a source of connection — to K’s childhood, to her mother, to every place she’s lived. In this respect, Seymour is not unique in K’s life. Our apartment is filled with K’s things. They take up every shelf we have, and if we had more shelves, they would take up those as well.

By contrast, I have few things, all of which are filed away, save for a few dozen books.

I keep a folder of photos in a drawer. I take them out now and then, but I would never put them on the shelves or walls. It would be distracting, and numbing too, in that something seen again and again recedes into the background.

When a space is cluttered, I feel unsettled, agitated. I used to feel that way in our apartment because of K’s things, but in time I’ve learned not to see them.

I often say that things — objects, possessions — have a psychic weight for me. This applies to precious things no less than junk. When something is precious, I want to protect it, preserve it. This is how I feel about the photos in my drawer, and it’s also why I keep them in a drawer, where I never need to see them.

My ideal space would contain few objects beyond the functional necessities. The idea would be to evoke and support a mindset of, for lack of a better term, meditative focus.

I recently asked K how she would feel in such a space. Her answer was immediate and certain: “Bored and lonely.”

I don’t doubt her. K’s things keep her company, and having company means a lot to her. Accordingly, her only complaint about our living room is that it doesn’t have space for an L-shaped couch, since that would open up more socializing options.

I’m not against socializing options but it’s the last place my mind goes when I think of ideal spaces.

Here I return to the photo of Zip. It was taken in the dining room of my childhood home, a dining room that had no dining room furniture because my parents couldn’t agree on what to buy: my father wanted to get whatever we could afford, while my mother insisted on waiting until we had enough money for nice things. Similarly our living room had no living room furniture, just plants. We called these rooms the dining room and living room, although precious little dining or living happened in either.

My parents’ standoff lasted my entire childhood. For my sister it was a source of shame and embarrassment, but for me it was a boon. I would hook a toy basketball net over the dining room door and play by myself for hours, imitating the signature moves of my basketball heroes.

I loved that empty room.