June 22, 2013

Agatha Christie lamented in her Autobiography the unfortunate position a person can be in when they enjoy Things, enjoy collecting and having Things – what some Philistines these days might call hoarders – but when said person's parents were also collectors and then they end up with a houseful of stuff already, and no room to add their own. 

As I sit in Corporate Coffee Shop, a lady across the room is working with a surgical clamp on a doll and I'm intrigued. Of course, a twitterpated girl of about 18 is sitting between me and that woman, so I'm both irritated and concerned that I'm going to look like a lecher. But, I want to see what she's doing. Not the girl; she's clearly leaning in, talking to her boyfriend and she's young and blond and happy and good for her. But, she's also in the way. The woman, who is about 50 years old, with a pink sleeveless shirt white shorts and reading glasses, is what I want to see. A minute ago the doll was cut in half at the waist and my artist friend was working on her. Now the torso is complete and she's connecting an arm. It seems that there is rope inside the doll that she's clamping onto. Or she put that rope in there for her own purposes. Now she's had to enlist her husband who is across the room with ear buds in – like me – and reading his Nook. (The younger generation can kiss our grits.) It seems that she needed a man's strength to pull the rope in order to accomplish what she's working on. Whatever it was, he made quick work of it. Now the artist is back in her seat talking with who appears to be the owner of the doll. The doll's dress is back on and the woman is pulling her little panties up with her thumbs while she talks. I could not be more happy that I chose this day and time to come get a cup of coffee, and happily the younger generation is bored and moving on – and out of the way. 

This actually ties in to my point. The apparent owner of the doll is probably in her fifties as well and she needs a doll like she needs a hole in the head. (Ever since a friend's father had a hole cut into his head to relieve pressure from fluid build–up on the brain I've felt a tinge of guilt for using that phrase.) The owner is sporting a pink bejeweled baseball cap and even the doll is dressed in pink. Okay, maybe all this pink is beside the point. But, the owner, looking at her pink smart phone, is probably showing the artist pictures of other dolls that she has. She enjoys them. People want to declutter their lives, but there's no point in being sterile.

I would like to point out that I had a friend, who has now gone to meet her maker, who was a true hoarder. She was an artist – a potter. She made the tiniest little pots, some of them no more than 2 inches high. She threw them on a potter's wheel and glazed them, fired them using the Raku method, and sold them. People all over the country and beyond collected her pots. She had a degree in geology and chemistry and she had a 5,000 square foot studio that was completely full of stuff. This is what I'm told the square footage was; I never measured. It was big. And, there was a pathway to get to her work area where she threw  and glazed tiny little pots. Racks of drying pots, racks of pots in bisque. Those things were necessary. Even the stacks of newspaper were necessary because she used them in the firing. The other 99% of the space was filled with unrelated, yet interesting stuff. A Tiffany lamp was in there. Things that she had hauled out of dumpsters. She had a collection of interesting bottles and antique doorknobs. Hell, when she was getting to the end of her life I helped clean out the place; I was there and I don't even remember what was in that studio. They had a long dumpster that they filled three times. A friend of hers came down from New York to help in the effort and he had a train car – literally – filled up and shipped back to his home. She probably had a quarter of a million dollars worth of semi-precious and precious gems that she had collected through the years, her Private Collection. She would show it to us and she remembered each one, when she got it and why.

My point is, having stuff helped her creatively. Yes, she went overboard but there was a grain of truth beneath it all. Lost amongst the clutter, but it was there. Having interesting things around her, finding and collecting interesting things, helped her creative spirit. And she could produce some work; she made hundreds of pots every month. She experimented with new things. So what if she did dumpster dive sometimes? Her work was all the reason and/or justification needed. I will admit that when she got sick and we had to go help her clean it out because she was physically unable, it was a little embarrassing. But, had she continued to live and produce artwork it would have been justified.

Like Mrs. Christie, though, she inherited a collection as well. Her mother was also a hoarder – from what I understand from my friend, herself – and already had a house and attic full of stuff when she (her mother) passed and she (my friend) took the house. The house was the same as the studio, if not worse. There was less space; the house had rooms where the studio was one open space. But, there were paths to the living room furniture and to the bed and to the bathroom. When they were cleaning out the house they discovered a sofa in one of the rooms, buried and hidden underneath a room full of stuff. The room was filled right up to the door. Ask her about it, though, and she would say that she didn't have time to go through it all. She had to work too much on her artwork and she didn't have time to go through each and every thing in the house like would be required. 

I will say for her that there was no decaying organic matter around. She did have the requisite clowter of cats, but they were all tame and friendly. She cleaned litter boxes and kept the food in order. She made it a point to keep the animals in line, whereas she didn't put so much thought into the rest of it.

Perhaps I'm justifying a bad habit. Perhaps I'm enabling some poor person out there who is struggling with an inner need to have stuff piled from floor to ceiling in every room of the house. That is not my intention. There is a step from collecting to hoarding. When you are a hoarder you have lost control and begin to rationalize completely irrational behavior. Make excuses. Deny. But, a collector of things is not wrong. If it helps that person's creativity or simply makes them happy, then that's all the justification that's needed. Where is the line? I don't know. I enjoy going to thrift stores, so I'm probably not the best judge. I can say from experience, though, that I can feel a difference psychologically when things are in control and I can walk through the apartment unhindered. I'm happier and more at home when things are clear and organized than when half a room is taken up with boxes. So, I think the line is in there somewhere. When one truly forgets what it's like to feel comfortable in their own home and has to start tuning the stuff out, when the stuff is no longer fun to look at, then it's becoming a problem. (Clearly if there is a health hazard going on because of rotten food and/or feral cats in the house then that step has been taken quite some time back.)

The ladies are getting up to leave. The artist is gathering her spool of rope and her pink tool box and her husband gets up to follow her to their car. I want to know these people. I was tempted to go give her my card and let her interest be piqued by bemol Ardiente. But I restrain myself. Like Agatha Christie said, sometimes people can be better characters in your mind if you don't actually get to know them. They can be what you imagine them to be. These women are creative and enjoy things. The one enjoys collecting dolls, the other enjoys repairing them. They both have an inordinate fondness for the color pink, but that's a different story for a different time. For now, they are for me what a happy, creative person is: working, enjoying the things that they find interesting and enjoying each other's company.

Now, off to the thrift stores with Nameless. Have you ever been to Top Drawer on Burnet Rd? You've GOT to go!

More later,

e A r n i e