Appraise It [on Flawed Wednesday]

HippieTomChairs cropped copy 2

The first time we visited Hippie Tom’s Serendipity Farm, Kerri said, “It’s like being inside someone’s disease.” The farm is a hoarder’s dream. Stuff piled upon stuff. Stuff packed into corners, hung from rafters, tucked under shelves. Most of the stuff is exposed to the heat and cold, rain and snow. Having the stuff is more important than the caring for the stuff, a 3-D philosophical statement. Certainly there are treasures to be found, curiosities that are heartier than the mildew and rust or perhaps have not yet been on the farm for a cycle of seasons.

In the barn there is a room for chairs. Chairs stacked to the ceiling though I use the term ‘stacked” loosely. Piled, perhaps. It reminds me a scene post tsunami, what remains after the waters have retreated. The artifacts of lives-now-gone. It would be a brilliant set for a play, metaphors abound. The sickness of acquisition. Or, perhaps it is not sickness so much as the inevitable destination of stuff after the story connection is lost.

The power of story. The value is never in the stuff, it is in the shared narrative invested into it. A diamond has no value without people to appraise it.

Once, I visited Georgia O’Keeffe’s home and studio in Abiquiu, New Mexico. It was spartan. And I loved it. A few chairs. And, oh-my-god the paintings. The view and vibrant connection to the natural world. It was like being inside someone’s happiness. So many years after her passing it felt alive – a place of life. That’s my appraisal.

Hippie Tom loves his farm, I’m sure. As for me, I think I’d rather walk the path with Georgia. Less stuff. More life.

 

read Kerri’s blog post about STUFF

 

we hate to leave paris websitebox copy

Know Your Stuff

my latest and the first of a new series. Held In Grace: Rest Now

my latest: Held In Grace: Rest Now

This a note of gratitude. Unashamed and unabashed.

Yesterday was our third annual trip to Cedarburg for Winterfest. It is one of my favorite adventures of the year with some of my favorite people. The temperatures were unseasonably warm, in the 50’s, so there was no snow and the river ran freely. The ice sculptors lining the streets tried to carve but soon abandoned their too-rapidly-melting blocks of ice. I stood with my back to a brick wall and drank in the sun.

Like the rest of the crowd, we wandered in and out of the many boutiques and shops, ate brats, sipped coffee, watched the sweet -small-town-parade and cheered at the bed races, an event that usually takes place on the frozen river but this day was held on a side street. The team with the best wheels won.

The shops, like shops in every town dependent on tourism, are chocked full of trinkets, greeting cards, clothes, and tchotchkes galore. Some of the shops are so stuffed with stuff that shoppers routinely flee to the streets to avoid imminent suffocation. I am generally crowd-averse so I hovered near the door and watched the games that emerged when the rules of personal space also fled to the streets. I delighted in the dance of strangers-in-too-tight-aisles bumping bellies, stepping on toes, laughing and blushing at unintentional nose touches and unfortunate hand placements.

In one of the shops I found displayed among the stuff a book entitled, Less Stuff, More Life by Amy Maryon. Ironies abound! I laughed heartily and was surprised when I found the same book in the very next shop we entered. So, I made a game of finding how many shops stuffed with stuff carried the book about collecting less stuff. The count: I found it in every shop we entered with the single exception of the antique store. It’s okay to load up on old stuff.

Each time I found the book I assigned it as a trigger for me to turn and appreciate the amazing people sharing the day with me: Dan and Gay, Sandy, Noelle, Daena, Jay and Charlie. Kerri above all. I also made it a game of giving gratitude for the riches of my life: 20, Linda and Jim, Russ and Mary Kay, Marilyn, Arnie, my Jims, …I could go on and on. I am the recipient of infinite kindness and support, love and friendship. This is the stuff of my life – as it is the stuff of life for us all. I suspect (the author) message is that the stuff in our closets obscures the real stuff of life. The shoes and houses and dish towels are not in themselves negative, they are, in fact, nothing at all. They are stuff. And, in the midst of the stuff, if we can see the forest through the trees, is our family and friends and community. There are people in our lives that we will never meet who make it all richer, better (for instance, I’d like to hug the human that first made a cup of coffee). They are the people we read about in the newspaper who donate time to make playgrounds, volunteer at the library or to man the local firehouse. There is the woman in the shop in Cedarburg that prays that we will buy something so she can pay her mortgage and feed her children.

 

Capture The Essence

Dog-Dog and treasure

Dog-Dog and treasure

Tripper Dog-Dog-Dog gathers his stuff around him. He has two stinky blankets that he pulls from his crate each morning, a red Kong, a blue chew bone with a handy looped rope pull, another blue toy that once looked like a jack but has been chewed beyond recognition, a once-stuffed moose from Josh that is now an unrecognizable shredded mess though he carries it around as if it was precious cargo. There is also a muddy tennis ball, a raw hide bone and usually a sock pilfered from my sock basket. If Kerri and I shift locations within the house, move from the living room to the sun room, Dog-Dog’s worldly possessions will slowly migrate with us. He is subtle and I rarely see the migration in progress; I suddenly realize that I am sitting within a nest of Dog-Dog treasure.

My favorite section in The Lost Boy is a series of questions that Tom asked: 1) if you were given a cardboard box and it was all that was going to be allowed to provide proof that you walked on this earth, what would you put in your box? 2) Beyond proof, what would you put in the box that captured the essence of who you were, that distinguished you from all the others? 3)What are the collections, the things you gather around you that are somehow supposed to tell others who you are? These questions might seem simple but are surprisingly complex. How does your stuff tell the story of who you are? Or, a better question: does your stuff define you? Can your stuff – your car, your house, your granite counter tops, your clothes, your jewelry,…, – capture your essence?

Tom asked two other related and relevant questions: In packing your box, would you be tempted to scrub your life of its messiness? Would you try to eliminate the mundane, the everyday? Would you throw away your rough drafts? Would you ignore the relationships that didn’t work out? Would you explain away the ugliness, the ruthless choices? Would you burn your personal journals so that the future might never glimpse your doubt, your struggles, your frailty?

I would add these questions: What if your essence was only available to you once you value the messiness? What if, in throwing away the mundane, you actually eliminate what is truly special about you? I’ve often taught and touted a tenet from improvisational theatre: drop your clever and pick up your ordinary – most of us diminish/neglect our greatest gifts because we label them as ordinary. They come naturally to us so we don’t always recognize them. In trying so hard to be clever, to be right, to be flawless,…to be other, we regularly overlook the real treasure and relegate ourselves to that most shameful pile labeled ‘ordinary.’

Scrubbing life to a sterile, conflict-less blandness is a recipe for….boredom and, at the end of the day, a very uninteresting box. Of this I am certain: if Dog-Dog had to pack his box today, I would be proud to sit amidst the stinky blankets, blue bones and remnants of moose toy. Dog-Dog hides none of his messiness.

 

Look At All The Stories

My Stuff

My stuff.

It is ironic to me that I spent the previous two years divesting myself of stuff. When I moved to Kenosha last October, the truck was filled mostly with paintings, art supplies, and books. If I excluded those things, I could carry my worldly possessions on my back. And, I did for months. I now know without doubt what is essential and what is luxury. Mostly, my story is no longer entangled with my stuff. Well, in truth, there are still a few things that are sacred: the box that held DeMarcus’ brushes, a treasure or two from Bali, grandpa’s nutcracker, Bob’s tools. I gave away many useful things because of the story they held!

Since moving I’ve been helping Kerri clean out her house. Each week we take stuff to the Goodwill or place bags on the curb. She has been twenty-five years in her house and raised two children. The things we sort through have layers and layers of story. Children’s toys and books, sporting equipment, old electronics, and clothes; everything comes with a memory. More than once Kerri has held tightly to a box or shirt, saying, “I can’t get rid of this! Craig used this when….” We’ve saved many things, not for usefulness, but for story.

Several times we’ve made the trip to Florida to sort, box and store the contents of her mother’s house. Kerri spends hours each week on the phone with her mom, Beaky, as she pours over an enormous list of her possessions. Beaky is now in assisted living and will never return to her home. She wants to make sure that each item goes to the right person and that the story held in the item goes with it. In fact, the designation of recipient often has more to do with the story than the item. She is reaching into the future attempting to build a story link with the past.

A few weeks ago we walked by an open house. It was an estate sale. People were lined up out the door to go in and buy stuff cheap. The people in line were anxious and jockeying for position; they wanted to get in before all the good stuff was gone. The stories associated with the stuff died with the homeowner. The new story begins with a bargain found at an estate sale.

Last week while in Denver for my grandfather’s funeral, I crawled under Ruby’s house to pull out the boxes that Bob had stored there, mostly things they hadn’t used in years. Ruby said, “I didn’t even know that was down there!” Forgotten stories resurface.

My parents’ house is filled with the accumulated possessions of a lifetime. Their sedimentary layer of stories includes children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. They’ve added no small amount of my grandfather’s possessions now that he has passed. The layers of story sediment compounded. “What are we going to do with all this stuff?” my dad asked. “Someone must have use for it!” He might just as well have asked, “What are we going to do with all of these stories. Someone must have use for them?”

It’s the question Tom asked when he found a trunk plastered into the walls of the family’s ranch house. The trunk contained the worldly possessions of an ancestor, a young boy named Johnny who died a century earlier. Little slips of paper written by his mother accompanied the layers of clothes and toys. “She wanted to keep his story alive,” Tom said. “What am I going to do with it?” he asked when he knew his life was on the glide path to the finish.

Someone once said to me, “You are not your stuff.” No. But we are people of commerce. We are people who identify ourselves through our stuff. We place great value in what we accumulate and what we accumulate becomes the vessel for passing on our value and our story. Look around you. Look at all the stories that surround you! Stand in your home, close your eyes, and spin around. Open your eyes and look at any object, any thing. What’s the story? What is essential? What is luxury?

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Canopy by David Robinson

Canopy by David Robinson

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