When I first began to teach myself how to draw again, I focused a lot on objects from life or from photographs that captured my eye. It took me a long time to attempt to draw something from memory. When I do draw from memory, I learn a lot about what was most prominent to me when I was looking at an object or a scene. I learn what I emphasize because I love it, or because it’s what stands in my mind or heart for the whole.
In each effort there is an emphasis on certain details that define the “thisness” of whatever it is I’m trying to represent–or maybe a better word even is “capture.” And often what I’m trying to capture is one of my “things,” which is funny, in a way, because we don’t think of physical things as ephemeral. But they can be: like this pin cushion lit up by the sun one afternoon.
Or sometimes it’s an object from a photograph that I interpret, like this God’s Eye:
There’s a lot of emphasis these days on minimal living, decluttering, simplifying, not having so many things. In each of my moves up until now, I have endeavored to downsize in this spirit. When I loved to my little mobile home at the beach, I took very little with me. There was already a bed and a dresser, a small butcher block table, chairs, and even dishes and pots and pans. I brought a table to draw on, my rocking chair, clothes, art supplies and a book or two. Later I brought a couple of pieces of art to put on the wall.
At first I didn’t miss my book shelves filled with what became favorite teachers over my childhood years and adult life, or the art that hangs on my walls back in Portland. There were big windows to let the light in and to glimpse the ocean from; I didn’t think I would need anything more. I knew I wanted to make the coast my permanent home, and for a time, I thought it would be in that little park model trailer. But in the end I wanted to have more room for my things.
It isn’t that I buy every book I want to read or save every book I happen to buy. Unlike many of my other bookish friends, most of the time I prefer to take books out of the library and literally share in the experience of reading a book with strangers, across time and space, passing it back so that chain of invisible can grow. In Portland I loved all the free libraries in my neighborhood as well. I would “take out” a book that looked good to me, read it, and then deposit it in yet another free library, keeping the cycle going. The books I own are ones that speak to me from my past about what I’ve learned, how I’ve changed, or what is beautiful to me. Ones that change me by also being physical objects I hold in my hands. They are the ones I take off the shelf from time to time to call those selves into the present. They include many of the journals I’ve kept over the years. Together these books and journals are a congregation inspiring gratitude and continuity, even if their numbers have slowly dwindled over the years, or remain roughly constant, as I add a new one, and let one or two others go. So at first, I was so enamored by my tiny house situation, I didn’t see this desire to keep more than I could display in my trailer take root.
Embracing this desire started out with wondering what I could fit and what I’d have to give up. My son suggested I draw a map of my condo to help me remember what was in it when I was back at the coast. This morphed into drawing objects and furniture I wanted to bring. Instead of just measurements, I thought it would help me to also have a sketch of what I was trying to place. It turned out I was fascinated by this and started a binder full of sketches of various “things” I might try to fit into the trailer.
When I was led to the opportunity to purchase the home I’m now buying I realized that despite my love for tiny houses and tiny house lore, I am not a particularly good minimalist. I like the history my things provide me. I like their colors, their stories, the memories that come alive when I look at them, the presence of loved ones now gone or far away they convey to me.
It isn’t about their monetary value, having the oldest or the newest or the most. It’s about the portal to memory and connection to ideas and loved ones they represent. A dear friend of mine who is a talented clairvoyant would say that time is an illusion, that it’s a way of stretching everything simultaneously out into a sequence we can make sense of in human form. She says we have the ability to dial into a channel on this frequency that goes beyond time, thus bringing events and people seemingly disparate in time together once again, even across death. In some small way, my objects, and my representations of them accentuate connections I feel that have nothing to do with whether an object is the best pin cushion, dog food container or hamper ever. They may be small in the vastness of the universe, but they open me up to memories and experience of delight, surprise and connection that seem to have no end, and that can lift me into a higher state of awareness in the residence of each present moment.
Take, for example, this sketch of my hamper:
Besides the fact that it’s lightweight and well, pink, this collapsible hamper always reminds me that when I first opened it up I became the perfect cartoon character. I was reading the instructions at the same time I was trying to open it, and just as I was beginning to read the warning that it could expand quickly, it popped open right into my face, as if springing to life on its own, startling me and making me laugh out loud. Apparently I wasn’t a fast enough reader, warned though I was. I felt a little like Buster Keaton trying to read a newspaper that never stops opening, until it takes over the whole park bench he’s trying to read it on.
Somehow, every time I put dirty clothes in it or take them out of it as I load my washing machine, the fact that this hamper made me laugh so much when it first sprang to life as my hamper is embedded in its hamper-ness, always a part of my laundry experience. As I sketched it I thought about this and also how much silly fun to was to elevate it into something worthy of depicting in this way.
So maybe it’s not the things I love, but what they represent. But maybe it IS the things, because of what invisible portals they open. Perhaps it’s both–and in this way there is a poetry inherent in my things. And even though it’s wise to live simply, and I’ve downsized a lot in the last few years and am still letting stuff go, I’m feeling a sense of anticipation about the new house where there’s room on the high walls for the large paintings and prints I’ve loved for decades, some rendered by my very first art teacher, some by me under her guidance, old friends that remind me how I learned to appreciate what is beautiful.
And yet, despite its lack of wall space for bookshelves and large art, I’ll miss my little park model trailer. The “art” in it is the wide windows that open out to the afternoon sun and show a dab of ocean through the blinds and the neighbor’s porch. I love that view and the objects that frame it enough to draw it. It’s less a realistic representation than it is what it feels like to me to look at it. It’s my way of “taking it with me.”
And that’s the way it should be when I leave a place: a little sad, my love and gratitude a kind of tribute to all it gave me, making the colors, the light, the way the days and nights felt when I lived there just that much more special and not to be duplicated anywhere else in the world. And then, too, there’s the pleasure of passing it on to the next person to enjoy.
Now it’s time for a new place–but with my old things. Things from many years ago, and things I’ve come to love in the last few months. Things I made or wrote a long time ago. Things loved ones have gifted me. I may have flunked as a minimalist, but I’m grateful for the life my things remind me of. I hold them lightly as I can, and treasure how they help me travel through time, back to people and places it was time to leave, and yet they remain, embodied, in my things. Some pretty and little, some extraordinarily ordinary, all unique because of the loving and delightful stories they hold. In this paradoxical way, I am able and willing to move forward, the ever present ocean reminding me each day, that even with my things, life is “always never the same.”