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Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Things and Ghosts

The hardest part about making this recent move was leaving most of my things -- books, files, furniture, and homey amusements -- in storage, taking with us to Arizona only what would fit into our compact car.

I'm not especially materialistic, but my stuff has a way of making me feel comfortable, like I'm in the right place, and that the creativity can flow. I was terribly envious of Barbara Briggs Ward's setup when she told me about it for her November 26 interview! Imagine, a place to settle down, to have a chance to position objects to their best advantage, to remain undisturbed.

One reason objects help me feel at home is that just about everything in my household has its own story, and those are important parts of my story. For example, a slightly battered, ordinary-looking floor lamp I've left in storage in Pennsylvania came to me when I moved into a studio apartment for the first time. When I first got to Boston, I moved in with room mates from some long-forgotten listing service, and all the lighting was already in the house. A very kind supervisor of mine had agreed to drive me over to the new place because I didn't have a car and the movers claimed they couldn't bring me with them in the cab. So all four of us drove ahead of the movers that day: Margie's husband, Margie (my supervisor), me, and the lamp she no longer needed, because she didn't want me to be in the dark in the new place. So, since September 2001, that lamp has been known as "Margie's lamp" in honor of her kindness, and no way would I willingly give it up. When I look at it, I see Margie and all the good times we had at that wonderful job.

Other objects contain within them the spirit of authority. When my grandmother gave me a set of kitchen utensils for my first wedding in 2004, she said, "That is the best whisk you will ever use." No ifs, ands, or buts. That whisk still receives the utmost respect and care, and in my house, it is known as "The Best Whisk in the World," when it's not languishing in storage, that is. Thanks, Grama. I think of you every time I use any of those utensils.

I drove my husband crazy during the moving process. Every time he would pick up a seemingly worthless object, I would cry, "I got that in Spain!" or recite some more complex history, plain as day to me, and he would know that it was too important to throw away. I love my husband beyond belief, but we are opposites in this regard. He's moved so many times that he has whittled his possessions down to the utterly necessary. If it weren't for me, he could pack up and leave in a sub-compact car in about two hours. He says the memories are in his head. His past is never in evidence, and I'm sure that's one reason he's so eternally ageless to me.

His attitude seems very healthy, whereas I have always considered memory to be outside myself. Consider the wonders logged in my childhood diaries: events I would never have been able to recall, in full detail! Also, my paternal grandmother died after the protracted horror that is Alzheimer's disease, and my dad was diagnosed with early onset dementia seven years ago, practically securing a similar fate for him. I always think that if I were to meet with that demon, my things and all the memories they so obviously contain would help me recognize the world and maybe stay in it a little longer. Just a theory.

Oh, the memories embedded in my captain's bunk! It's a twin bed with two drawers and an open storage area underneath that I got to sleep in when I was very young. The construction is entirely modular, so the  biggest piece is the mattress (not the original one anymore!) and it's been easy to take everywhere. Since I've been married, I've used it as a couch/storage area in my study, a place to take naps, and a visitor's bed. It's seen every aspect of my life, except the times I lived in England and Spain. Because it's been moved around so much, the bed frame has seen better days, but I don't usually see its flaws. It has its own presence, made up of so many witnessed events.

It is this presence that brings me, finally, to a concept often talked about on Ghost Hunters. I started watching the show because the guys are from Rhode Island, a rapturously beautiful state that I miss terribly. I kept watching because they often capture amazing audio clips that suggest the persistence of spirit. The concept that pertains here is the reason for residual haunting. They suggest that certain objects, which may have been involved in traumatic experiences or just really loved and cared for by their long-passed owners, retain something of those experiences and emotions. We in the present day then witness that pent-up energy as movement, feelings, or sounds.

My stuff is probably causing at least one residual haunting at the storage unit in Pennsylvania as we speak.

I like the concept. It validates the weighty importance I feel when I walk into a medieval manuscript library. There have been few objects in the world made with more deliberation and care, and then so appreciated and loved. I positively vibrate around medieval books, but I've never been able to articulate the phenomenon to ask anyone else if they feel it, too.

My dad's woodworking projects and my mum's sewing are in the running for the title of most cared for objects. So it comforts me to think that the items my parents have crafted for me will continue to emanate their love and skill even if (God forbid!) I can never go back and get them. Even when they pass away. Even when I do.