Thursday, April 16, 2009

(De-) Mythologizing our stuff

It’s been 18 years since my parents’ house was sold and the contents came to be with me in Hastings-on-Hudson. I lived in a five-bedroom house and everything fit. But when I moved to my small but wonderful apartment in 2001, a lot of their things had to go into storage. I have paid tens of thousands to store antiques and books! A lot were my dad's, and I saved them because they were his, and because well, maybe someday Lydia would be interested in birds. But she isn't a bird person, and Daddy has been dead nearly twenty years. It truly is time to move on.

What I decided (after years of lugging these books around) is that unless I am prepared to make selling them my career or avocation, I have to let someone else do it. Lots of our generation are looking to make a killing. Surely our parents' jewelry, furniture, china, books, silver, whatever has some value, right? It did to them. They counted themselves prosperous because they had it all.

There's a lesson here somewhere, and remind me to find it when I have time. All this stuff has value in the aggregate as holder of myth, image, story. You put all this stuff together in one house, attractively held together by an individual's self-image, and it tells you that person's story. She was cultivated, he was an intellectual, he was this, she was that. Take away the person -- or someone who is willing to act as caretaker to the myth -- and there's no myth. Just stuff. That's why books wind up on ABE for $7.91 (including $3.99 S&H) and dealers in old stuff have rooms full of silver teapots.

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