Friday, April 1, 2011

Things

 Small booklets, pamphlets, so-called 'zines, and similar ventures of the smallish book have always fascinated you.  Even now, within reach on your desk are three such items, one a small, two-and-a-quarter-inch by four inch note pad containing sixty-four pages on which to write things, another being two-and-a-half by three inches, a short tale by Beatrix Potter called The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit,and the most recent addition to your collection, an English publication three-and-an-eight inches by four and three-quarters inches, quite thick with over 240 pages.  This last one is called Understanding Dreams.  You found it in the trash bin at the post office, pounced upon it by no means because you were eager to discover what your dreams mean.  You already have a pretty good idea what they mean; you were aware of having lost your considerable collection of small publications--but not your collection of Haledman-Julius Little Blue Books--during the misadventure of your move from Hot Springs Road to your current home.  You wished to rebuild, driven by some quixotic dream of publishing small pocket- and purse-sized booklets, venturing so far as to have lists of titles and topics you'd publish.  Never mind how you'd market them or even let the world know they were available; that would come later.

Part of your fondness for the more conventional size of books as well as these miniatures is your romantic notion that readers want to have things explained to them; people want to know what things mean, even such abstract things as love, faith, hope, happiness, beauty.  In some ways, the format for the dream book is similar to the non-fiction project you have placed with a publisher and are awaiting.  People want to know what everything means.  They would also like some assurances that their interpretations of what things mean is not radical in departure from what other individuals think the same things mean.

And yet, you do wish to extend and express the belief and hope that there are fantastic explanations available that many individuals have yet to discover.  You in fact see yourself as some sort of Virgil, leading tourists through not Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise so much as through yesterday, today, and tomorrow, with no thought that there is a relationship between yesterday, today, and tomorrow with Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise.  You in fact do not subscribe to Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise.  You know that will disappoint any number of readers who were more or less preparing themselves to spend an eternity in Paradise, but in mitigation, it could easily please individuals who'd been concerned about the possibilities of Hell.  Actually, Hell would be an eternal plane trip with nothing to read but Tom Clancy, but that is another matter.

The matter here, in as succinct terms as possible, is to celebrate the fact of things having meanings.  You do not, for instance, have much use for pencils, nor have you for some time, but one of the things you keep is a small pencil sharpener in the shape of an upright typewriter, a token gift given you thirty or more years ago on your birthday by a group of students.  When you are long gone, such a token, if found by an archaeologist, will be interpreted as a totem from the pre-computer era, its inherent sentimental value to you gone with your own departure.

You are fond of saying one robin does not make a spring; you could well have said one pencil sharpener does not make a meaning.  Instead, you say this:  We give names to things, identity, description; we impart sentiment to persons, places, and things.  Even as you write this, you are moved to the cusp of tears by an email exchange with your youngest niece in which she--remarkable person that she is--did not learn the culinary secrets from her late mother (and your late sister) of the two things your sister sent you for your birthdays that invariably brought joy to you.  Thus an entire family dynamic expressed in terms of what things meant.  Your youngest niece extended the trope further by bringing her older sister into the picture, describing how yet other things your sister made for her oldest daughter affected her being, and now, of course, it spreads to you.

This is a panegyric to collecting things, not just anything but things you care about, things of quality and meaning so that looking at them, using them, caring for them in valuable ways defines you to yourself, reminds you of the complexities of being alive and the need to identify the worlds within and without, describing as you go, leaving identification marks on your landscape, noting down incidents so they may find their ways into pamphlets, booklets, books, scrolls, and, yes, electronic reading devices, catalogued with the same kinds of affection by which they were noticed and collected in the first place.

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