Monthly Archives: December 2008

The Grinch Always Makes Me Cry

I have to admit that the holidays never really held any special significance for me. Sure, as a kid they mean getting stuff, stuff you don’t really need, but as an adult, the holidays basically just amount to a blip on the budgetary radar wherein you have to spend money on things you wouldn’t normally spend money on. Despite my uncharitable view on the holiday, this particular Christmas has finally managed to cut through the fog of materialism and really get my attention.

To my co-workers, I gave only as chance dictated. My boss got a book on the proper use of the rhythm method of birth control, my co-workers received a simple plastic glass, a copy of the Necrocomicon and a Satanic Bible as their own personal tastes dictated. Amanda and Isabella received very nearly what they asked for with the exception that Amanda is also the proud owner of a large, natural barnacle scraped from some sea-side edifice. Buying for children is always far too easy to be properly satisfying. For that one particularly special person in my life, I simply poured out my soul as best I could. Circumstance is not yet my ally but I had endless enjoyment devising and executing new ideas to express myself through the physical manifestations of gifts.

No, what took my breath away was not the act of giving in this case, but instead what I received. The closest analogy I can draw is that the giver tore away part of her soul and handed it to me. The giver, one of my closest co-workers, is remote to my office in Indy, which makes this all the more astounding. She sent me a bit of her original artwork, one that she describes as ‘her best’ and I have to admit that it’s pretty impressive. It is indeed a very powerful piece and quite frankly I’ve not yet gotten my mind (or my ability to articulate) around the fact that she sent it to me. What makes me shake my head even more is the fact that when I tried, most inadequately, to express my gratitude, she said in the most self-effacing way that I can imagine, “If you decide to throw it away, please send it back to me first.” Sitting here looking at it hanging on my wall, I want to cry even considering such an act. That someone could send such a gift and at the same time consider that the receiver might simply “throw it away” boggles my mind. It is, simply, unthinkable.

What is even more amusing to me is that at a couple of weeks ago when I heard that she’d gotten me a gift, I racked my brain for a few days considering what I could possibly get her, remembering that in order to do so it had to be truly meaningful. It didn’t take long for my mind to wander around to our previous discussions of art and it quickly dawned on me that the only reasonable gift for her would be an original work of art. Sadly, there wasn’t sufficient time left to produce such an item and Monday found me completely off guard, completely trumped and beaten to my own punch. I stand here agog.

What is truly ironic is that this person may never know just how much of an impact her gift had on me. As I sit here in my empty apartment, listening to the putting of some noisy and mysterious engine outside in the parking lot and the echoes of my own keystrokes, I’m reminded of just how incredibly lonely I am. In the past year I’ve given up absolutely everything; my life has been utterly torn asunder. With a few very scant exceptions, I’ve lost all the people I cared about or even talked to on a regular basis. Her gift gives me very real and potent hope for the future. I may be alone now, as alone as the singular, falling leaf on an autumn day, but I rest assured in the knowledge that I’m only as alone as I allow myself to feel.

Thank you, Amy, for being a shining light in my life and inspiring me to seek out true friendship.

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On the Futility of Ownership

(Edited from a Tattered Thread blog entry originally made on April 16, 2004)

As I sit here watching Fantasia for only the 3rd time with my 5-year-old I’m reminded of the futility of actually attempting to own anything. Those who know me with more intimacy than that transmitted by mere blog entries are no doubt sitting agog in their chairs at those words.

The 5-year-old in question did NOT want to watch Fantasia; instead she was dead set on watching Lion King 1 ½ which due to some unknown circumstance had made itself unavailable at the moment. Anyone who has a child this age knows that quickly the entire purpose of this child’s existence became the capture and interrogation of any individual who knew the whereabouts of her lost movie. Clearly, the child has gone from possessing the possessions to being possessed BY the possessions. My daughter’s resultant meltdown caused two distinct threads to unravel themselves in my mind.

First, what exactly is the purpose of the cinematic and other visual art forms? It seems clear that the primary purpose for consumption of the arts is the simple visceral reaction invoked by the artwork being consumed. In short, the arts make us feel good.

Secondarily, the work acts to expand the general realm of experience for the viewer. Since humans are the sum of all that they see and hear in a lifetime, art makes us better and broader people no matter what the format. If we take these two statements as axiomatic, then it follows that the greatest possible benefit is derived from any artwork at first encounter while subsequent repetitions provide diminishing returns on time and energy since they are naught but further study on an already familiar concept.

So now one might ask: what exactly is the purpose of accumulating a library of anything when the value of every item in that library diminishes with each use? It would seem the only items worth owning are those that you wish to study and refer back to over a long period of time. Surely my 5-year-old can have no plans to study The Lion King in depth over the next 15 years and refer back to it in her doctorate thesis? Doubtful, so then why own any but the keenest and most worthwhile of items? Why spend one’s hard-earned monetary resources on items which depreciate in value and take up space causing you to need special furniture or a bigger house? Are we so materialistic as a people that the act of owning the possession is actually more important than its real value?

This is a tough pill to swallow for me since I tend to approach my library like a collector rather than a reader. On one hand, my tendency to hoard makes me want the entirety of world literature at my fingertips. Rationally, I realize the sad truth: despite the moniker of “classic” many of the novels in my collection are, in fact, obscure and valueless crap. At least I feel I’m a step ahead of the people running garage sales piled with Danielle Steele paperbacks and the complete series of Rocky movies on Betamax.

Post Script:
The entry above was written over four and a half years ago and since then a lot has changed. I’ve disposed of an unprofitable collectables business and reduced my material footprint on the world (not counting household necessities) to the referenced collection of classic literature (still numbering about 400 volumes), a small collection of other books and the remnants of my foreign coin and currency collection. As I left my abode the other day I realized, quite abruptly, that if all of these items were to vanish, I would really not be all that upset. I maintain the library merely as a symbol of my own bookish nature and the coins and currency are simply too difficult to dispose of in anything but the most profitless manner. This is significant progress considering that in 2004 I had 400-500 square feet of my house devoted to objects which served no purpose whatsoever. It’s still a long way to “own no more than you can carry on your back” but I think a few more garage sales should do the trick. Until that time, I think it’s time to enjoy a bit of classic literature.

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