There’s been a lot of purging of stuff going on around our house for the last few days. We’ve got a couple of events coming up and we need room for tables and chairs, which meant moving out furniture, which meant moving crap out of the way in the spare room which meant purging stuff.
I have a dual personality thing going in relationship to stuff. On the one hand, I’m a big fan of clean lines, open spaces, zero clutter. I want things airy and sparse and roomy. On the other hand, I’m equally a big fan of items that resonate with story, which have some history or sentimental value. You see the problem. There’s an art to finding a balance between the hanging onto and the letting go.
There are things I can’t part with, no matter how silly they seem. One is the item I’ve had for almost my entire life – a tiny baby doll my mother found hidden in my fist at the end of a day where we’d been to various stores. I was not yet one year old, and had managed to shoplift. When I happen upon it on the shelf, it reminds me to expect the unexpected, and to not assume the innocence on the surface is the truth.
In the kitchen, there’s a green ceramic frog (wearing tennis shoes) I made when I was about eight—my grandmother let me paint it and sign it and we had it fired somewhere near where she lived. It’s just a dumb ceramic frog and I’m sure I drew things or made things before it, but it’s the first clear memory I have of creating something and signing it.
Just a shelf away is the thirty-ought-six (I think) casing which I pierced through the center, shooting it with a twenty-two rifle at thirty yards. It was the day after I’d been terrorized in our home and had managed to elude a (later convicted) murderer/rapist. My husband had brought me to the range to teach me to shoot; he lined up the casings on a board and I hit nine out of ten. I never dreamed I’d be able to shoot a gun, much less hit anything. Whenever I’m afraid, I’ll see that casing and realize that while fear and bad things are always going to be a part of life—I’m capable of more, if I try.
As I look at these shelves and get rid of stuff I no longer want, I wonder how these things I have define me. I wonder, sometimes, what someone else would think if they came in here and saw an odd chunk of silica. Or the cast-iron bull castrating tool. It amuses me that they may wonder why a decidedly non-Catholic has a red-beaded rosary hanging near the computer area. Or where the Mardi Gras mask came from.
The people who know me know the stories. These things are a part of my history, of my oddball reality. My relationship to my world, my family, my friends, my history—is documented by what I choose to keep and what I choose to toss.
It’s a simple thing, really, this relationship to stuff. And telling. It’s why I had my main character, Bobbie Faye, lose almost everything she valued right at the beginning of the book, especially the scrapbook her mom gave her. She became severed from her world, from her history, from what grounded her and thrust into this caper, chasing after the only thing left to her that had personal meaning, the one thing she’d have to surrender to keep her brother alive. As you learn what these things mean to her, I think the relationship grounds the humor.
It makes me interested in a character if there’s some implication as to how he relates to his world. Does he keep everything? Or nothing? I don’t want to see him move around in a vacuum; I want to see him finger the dumb framed sketch he drew on a napkin when he was first dating the woman who would later become his ex. I wonder if he’ll throw it away.
I wonder if he’ll use it as a weapon.
Stuff. Expression of personality, of a person’s space in the world. What have you kept? Or do you toss it all?