Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Burning House

I just noticed this new book on the New Hardcovers table. My mom and I always used to play this game, talking about what we would rescue on a moments notice if we had to. It's a tough prompt, but at the same time, liberating. The question forces you to mentally pair down your most important, treasured belongings into what is really essential to your existence. The key seems to be to balance what you would need to rescue yourself from the instant destitution you find yourself in - imagine yourself, in pajamas, standing barefoot on a lawn, a building behind you engulfed in flames. I picture myself at dusk, a pink-grey salmon belly of a sky disappearing behind the smoke, but really, you can go with your gut on the time of day.

So there you are, watching your former castle disappear into rubble, artifacts, trash. What did you grab?

There seems to be no limit in the book to how many items you can take, but I'm going to say its whatever you can manage to carry. In my opinion, roommates and spouses, etc, are not required to be mentioned in your list, but children and babies are. I don't have a spouse or a baby, but I do have a roommate with insomnia, so I probably would be shaken awake by her to begin with. I think my list would have to be:

- phone
- wallet
- one of the many, many photo albums of my childhood
- my favourite pink dress

...and if I'm honest, that's probably it. I have been thinking about it all day, in order to write this blog post, and I think everything else is replaceable. Sure there is irreplaceable art, original art, old love notes, amazing jewelery I found at antique shows, volume upon volume UPON VOLUME OF reeeeeeally important books, and countless thrift store finds that I would rather not part with but if I had to, I could. The dress excluded, because it is my very favourite dress and there is no other like it. It is like my whole personality wrapped up in a single dress. Perfect. The sweet deity themselves could not have crafted better, and so it must be saved.

This book relates to my life right now, because for the past week, every night after work I go home, make myself a gin and tonic, and pack my life into boxes. It is agonizingly slow going, and I find myself getting lost in these unending cycles of sentimentality. I start making bargains with myself, mostly about items I want to keep for future projects, and pretty soon I find I'm not getting rid of anything, that all of my ephemera is coming with me, and I inevitably freak out and have to re-open boxes just to cleanse them of their gluttony. When my mother moved out of the country circa 2009-ish, I got all the family photo albums, and a few of my teeny tiny preemie onesies, because yes, while now I am amazonian in stature, you should know, gentle reader, that this "human ladder" (nickname care of Lisa G.) started life out at a mere 5 pounds, 12 ounces. The clothes are unreal; sleeves that look like they were made for adult fingers, not baby arms. I swam in them. To hold them is to be sucked backwards through time to a place I don't remember ever going. (Reader: don't worry. I bounced back, with a vengeance, and I have the stretch marks to prove it.)

And while that is a weird transcendent experience, to hold one's own Borrower-sized baby clothes in one's now larger-than-average lady hands, it's really time for me to give these memorials of myself away. Or throw them out, in some cases. I don't know why we accrue these items, but we do. Is it because we are desperate to tell our own stories? Scrambling for proof that we were on this earth, something besides photographs and here say. Somehow, our own two feed on the ground, the feel of the air, the light refracting inside the rods and cones of our eyeballs is not enough. 

So set it on fire, go ahead. Not literally, of course, because I live in an apartment building and am not homicidal, but figuratively. Get this junk out of here.

But about the book. Once you start flipping through pages, it soon becomes clear that, for most of the entrants in this fantasy scenario, the objects they choose to save are clearly more related to how these individuals wish to be perceived, rather than what they would actually miss in the event of a fire. One 24 year old from the Bronx displays, "two small photo graphs in beautiful frames". The photographs are tiny, only about two inches long, house in equally small, ornate brass frames. They look old, probably rescued from a thrift store or antique warehouse. It would appear this woman does not know who the people are in the photographs. Sure, these could have sentimental value for her, maybe they were given to her by somebody important and that's how they've transferred value into her life, but I find it far more likely that she just wants to be perceived as someone who would rescue two tiny, anonymous and arcane photographs in the event of a fire, because she is quirky and mysterious.

I'm not judging that instinct, but if that's the direction we're moving in, my list would have to be different. If what I rescue correlates to how I want to be represented, then I'd probably want my television, my high school diploma, (I worked damn hard for that thing, what up Brookline Public Schools) some choice photographs of my friends, my copy of Handling Sin by Michael Malone, my Ralph Steadman art book, Firefly on blu-ray, mother's wristwatch, picture of my parents dancing when they were young and in love (and also the only picture I have of both of them at the same time), and I reserve the right to fall to my knees and weep for all the beautiful scarves that are about to light up the night sky with their sacrifice. I'm sorry, my darlings. I'm so sorry Mommy couldn't save you all.

Which way of thinking about the "what would you save" list appeals to you more? And, more importantly, what would you save? If you want to come in and look at this book, it's on the new paperbacks table. Start thinking, friends.

1 comment:

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