Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Burdensome Things

As a child, I certainly had a lot of stuff--toys of various kinds, and most of all, stuffed animals. Graduating from such things in adolescence, I accumulated a very large number of books--so many, in fact, that since moving out, I've made at least three trips taking books from my father's house--and after the last two trips I mistakenly thought I had finished, only to be told by my younger sister (who still lives there) that, no, I still have another box of books (and would I please take it so it won't keep cluttering up the house even more than it is already).

Anyway, perhaps it's because of that experience that I have such a keen appreciation for not having things. During my college years, I used to wander through the aisles of Shopko (it's like Target), looking at all the nice things they had, and leaving satisfied and happy, having purchased nothing. It was good to be reminded that I already had everything I needed.

It's very nice being able to love beautiful things--lovely plates and bowls, towels and tablecloths, and especially the kind of art seen on a certain artist's blog,--and have no desire to possess them. To have rather an averse gut reaction to the idea of owning such things--because, though I am delighted that such things exist, it seems like having them would weigh me down, somehow.

But the problem is, sometimes I love things that almost everyone would consider garbage. And in that case, I would rather possess such an object than see it destroyed. And that, unfortunately, is a very bad principle to actually put into practice.


jenzai studio said...

This has got to be one of your traits that I envy the most. Not the one about finding treasures in other people's trash - I've got that one in spades - but the one that enables you to enjoy things without owning them. I don't understand how you do that! I mean, I totally get what you're talking about, and sometimes I feel that way, but certainly not in Target. I walk in there and I immediately "need" about a hundred or more thing I didn't even know existed. Same thing at the mall, which is why I try to never go there. I can't enjoy it. I start feeling deprived (ha!), like the Universe is unfair (duh!), and like I want to go get some high-falutin' design job so that I can get me some of that.

I feel that way to a lesser degree about art (and thank you btw for the link.) I suppose this discrepancy has something to do with marketing.

So why do you suppose we feel like we need to own so many books? I've had this discussion with a number of people now, and we have each ultimately had to admit to an element of status associated with the # and the kinds of titles we own. Not the only motivating factor, but still, there it is.

I've been feeling more and more like the consumption of ideas and information can be just as poisonous to the soul as the accumulation of "stuff" and of wealth. What do you think? (She says, realizing what a loaded question that is for a graduate student! Go easy on me....)

Breakfast Bitches said...

Dear Virgie,

My stores are Rite Aid and Safeway. I love to just wander through them and look at all the diverse products. Although I do typically leave having bought one little thing; I enjoy myself even without a purchase. Pues, it has been an enjoyable morning of inter-browsing and catching up on people's blogs (something I need to do far more often--maybe it will be my Lenten vow) but I'm going to make myself a cup of tea and sit down with a Jesus book and see what comes my way.

Breakfast Bitches said...

Okay, I lied a little bit. Dear jenzai studio, I know your question about consumption of ideas was addressed to Virgie and not to me, but it made me think and I wanted to share my answer.

I think, like consumption of things, consumption of ideas becomes poisonous to the soul when it becomes something we do just for the sake of doing it.

Max Weber brings up the idea of instrumental values, the concept of means to an end, and his famous "iron cage" is what happens when we get stuck in the means stage of consuming things and lose sight of any end. I think this cycle can happen with ideas and information. When we constantly consume it without ever generating anything useful; a new idea, or a kind action, then it becomes poisonous to the soul. What do you think?

whitethoughts said...

I'm sorry I'm just now catching up. I have a lot of books too; they are the material items I have the most trouble resisting and would have the most difficulty giving away if someone asked for them - IF I thought they wouldn't appreciate them. If I felt the book in question would actually be used, I could hand it over with no problem.

But I agree with what BB said, to a certain extent. I mean, I have to admit that part of why I love the books has to do with their physical presence - the way they look, the feel of the paper, the interesting and varied bindings, the smell of the glue and the smell of the paper, cloth, ink. The whole is most definitely greater than the sum of the parts in this case.

And not only is there an element of status involved in having books on your shelf (although only among nerds, you guys - most people are not impressed by books, believe me). But they also tell people who you are. For those who do care about books, a quick perusal of your shelves give people an idea of your history, your identity and what you care about.

What it really comes down to though is that I USE my books. When I went away to college I got rid of nearly 3000 books, and I regret the loss of about 1000 of them. I've been slowly replacing them, because I have found a need for them in the years since. I have wanted a particular quote, or wanted to remember an idea, or loan the book to a friend. It drives me crazy not to be able to lay my hand on a book I used to have. And when we are having interesting conversations, they nearly always end with piles of books at our feet, as we have sought and found the bits of information we needed to support, fill in, or counter an argument or a train of thought.

I guess I can't speak for anyone else, but I would guess for those of us who work with words and ideas for a living and as our passion, having a lot of books is an occupational hazard, a fact of life.