I just saw this article on LitHub about the auction of the late Joan Didion’s personal objects and property – her shell collection, her eye glasses, her rolling pin, stuff like that – and the sums of money that people are willing to pay to own a “piece” of somebody like that. The author of the Lithub piece talks about Didion’s clock and about how said clock would probably transform her own literary efforts if parked on her own desk, even stopped at a particular hour which she would superstitiously never change. Quite possibly it would. We carry our own propehcies and motivations within us, after all, and the clock would simply be an external anchor for that.
Made me stop and wonder what lives in my own house that people might find of such interest… if any.
I came up with three things,
One is my first treasured teddy bear who goes by the name of Meda (Little Bear, in my cradle language). He is one of those old fashioned solid-bodied sawdust filled things, and he used to be gold, which you can still see if you turn his eaers back and look underneath where the years have been kind and preserved a patch of his original plush. Right now he is threadbare, one of his glass eyes is broken (you can see where it cracked and was glued back together), and he is oh so beloved. I received him for my first birthday and he was by all accounts pretty nearly bigger than me. He has travelled with me to four continents, he came with me to boarding school when I spent a year in one and man was he essential there, and right now he presides over my plush collection, senior to a clutch of lesser bears, a handful of dragons, and a toddler-sized moose. He may not be much to look at if you just throw a glance his way but he has carried my heart with him for so long. I don’t know how to put a $$$ value on that. Maybe someone somewhere will look at him and see his true worth.
Two, the tapestry that hangs on the wall in my upstairs corridor. It is admittedly large, and made from a kit. I priced an equivalent kit online not too long ago just for kicks and it astounded me to see that the cheapest variant of it I could find came in at $900 – and there were other places where it went for serious four figures. That is just the raw kit, mind you – the printed canvas, and the wool required to stitch it. I worked on this tapestry on three continents for damn near a decade on and off before it was done – a modern day Penelope. What worth the work of my hands adds to the value of the kit itself I have no idea – but this was something that I did to keep my hands busy while, often, dreaming up stories. You might say that there is a lot of “yarn” tangled up in this thing and it isn’t all embroidery tapestry wool. This is a tapestry of dreams and visions worked into a solid object and hung onto a wall. I wonder if somebody might find that inspirational some day.
Three, the signed books in my library. The Ben Bova autograph. The Roger Zelazny autograph. The Ursula Le Guin autograph. The C J Cherryh autograph. The Guy Gavriel Kay autograph. The Harlan Ellison autograph. The Spider Robinson autograph. The Matt Ruff autographs, plural. The Jay Lake autograph. Some of these signatures are just squiggles in a book; others are personalised, to me, by people whose work I deeply admired (the Zelazny is PRECIOUS…) and some are from people whom I consider to be more personal friends (I miss you, Jay…). All together, they paint a picture of my spirit, my interests, my appreciations, my mind, my person, of who I am as described by the literature that shaped me. Some day somebody might find that of passing biographical interest…
There are more of course. There are the eggs of polished semi-precious stone which live in their little marble nest, shades of caramel and rose and blue and green. There is my father’s collection of those little souvenir spoons they used to have with enamel pieces on the handle telling of their origins – mine show a life lived around the globe, spoonlets collected from all over the place, they’re useless but they’re a memory. There’s the collection of yarn (I like buying it. Then I procrastinate for years about making anything of it). There are the memorabilia of my African childhood (I need to ask someone for forgiveness when it comes to a couple of women’s figurines carved into ivory. They used to sell these things in piles on the median between the main street going in opposite directions on either side, in Zambia. Reader, we had just landed in Africa and we were raw and naive and ignorant. We did not know. We did not know what a slatughter it was and what a slaughter it was yet to be. I still own these ivory carvings and they make me feel deeply guilty and ashamed every time I look at them now. But it is too late to make amends for them the animals who died to give them to be carved into tourist trap sculptures have been gone for decades now. Still, I am sorry.) There is my father’s chess set, complete with the picture inside the box of him playing the chess Grand Master Max Euwe to a draw one time when he was visiting the country we were living in at the time; he dined out on that story for many years. There is the tea towel which was once embroidered (not particularly well) by my grandmother’s hand. There are the photo albums that tell the story of my childhood, and the metric tons of photographs (pre-digital age) that are loose and quiescent in labelled envelopes or in boxes which live next to those albums. There’s the Zune (look it up) that my late husband used to use to listen to audiobooks on; it’s still plugged into the charger two years after he left me, because when I touch it the thing comes up with its screensaver picture… a portrait of the two of us… and I cannot bear to unplug it. There’s more. A three dimensional picture of my life and my existence.
Which possessions do you have that you think define you, or that someone might value in terms of casting a light on your being after you yourself are gone from this world?
1 thought on “The things we carry”
Lois McMaster Bujold put it very pithily in _Komarr_: “A man’s library gives information about the shape of his mind the way his clothing gives information about the shape of his body.”