Sunday, September 22, 2013

Ten Thousand Things

A thing is an object in the drawer of your work table, which itself was a thing when it first came into your possession.  Things go into the drawer when Lupe cleans the work table or when you, tired of the clutter of things, put one or more of them in the drawer.

Often, the things in your drawer evolve beyond things, into things you wish to save because they have meaning for you and, happily,or use for them.  They have transmogrified from things into useful things to tools, perhaps even into mementos.

You have long sped past the need for a pencil sharpener or an upright standard pencil sharpener, but in the drawer is a pencil sharpener in the shape of an upright standard typewriter, a birthday gift from students, years ago.  

From time to time, the nostalgia for the affection for that group of students is so great, you search through the drawer like an archaeologist, searching for potsherds, looking for a pencil to sharpen, merely to use the pencil sharpener.  When you do find such a pencil, it is sure to have already a fine point, still there from the time of its last sharpening.

Clutter is itself a thing, which leads you to think of the philosophy known as Tao, the process of nature by which all things change and which you'd well better understand if you wish to lead a life of harmony.  The book of Tao, The Tao Te Ching, makes constant reference to Reality, which it refers to as "the ten thousand things."  Your connection to Tao was solidified some years ago when a Hindu nun gave you an illustrated of The Tao Te Ching. 

Thus, for you, clutter is "the ten thousand things," which change from the top of the table to the drawer.  Things to be kept are things that were once on the table top, but now in the drawer as opposed to the trash basket which, although it has incurred some structural issues, is no mere thing, it is kept; it has morphed from a thing to a keepsake or souvenir.

The table was merely a table given you by your father, who discovered it in a library branch that was being closed.  Over the nearly fifty years you have had this table, moved it from Santa Monica to Summerland to Montecito to 409 East Sola Street, it is no longer the table, it is Jake's table, radiant of the mystical powers of connective tissue.  It will surely outlast you.  Will it go next to Santa Fe or to Venice, wherein to become Uncle Shelly's table?  Or will it leave the family, take up with a new human with whom to forge a relationship?

You leave your physical and emotional fingerprints on the things about you.  Often you pause in the act of moving a mere thing to the trash basket-with-issues, a moment of inspection for the vibrations of nostalgia or affection that may be radiating from the object.  Yes or no, you ask it?  Will you stay with me for a while longer?

Within your drawer of Jake's table, at this moment, is a small sheet of thirty-nine-cent postage stamps, each with a different Navajo rug.  You save this because you are then able to savor the thought of owning each rug, imagining the way their presence in your studio would cause the room to become much other than it is.  There is a pack of three-by-five index cards, which are splendid tools for writing things that will need later to be sorted into piles relative to their subject matter, which you will by then have forgotten.  The main purpose of forgetfulness is to focus on remembering, looking for hidden and overt meanings, the way you look into a person's eyes to see if there are covert or overt meanings for you to decipher, then wonder about the way you wonder about the power of the rugs illustrated on your obsolete postage stamps.

There are fountain pens, flashlight-key-holders from Santa Barbara Bank and Trust, now subsumed by Union Bank.  The logo is obsolete, but the light works and so does the key chain.  Will you ever be obsolete, and if yes, will your light still work?  You like to think on such matters.

In the drawer, there is a three-and-a-half by five-inch, sixty-four-page book from a famous series of books of the past, The Haldeman-Julius Little Blue Books.  This one, printed on decaying pulp paper, is Little Blue Book No. 1063, The Psychology of Laughter,copyrighted in 1926.  Its chapters include "Laughter as Relaxation," "Laughter of the Unconscious," and "Bergson's [probably Henri, 1859-1941, a noted French philosopher] Theory of Laughter."

You are a fan of such older publications and have several others about, but what makes this one special beyond its mere presence is the fact of a slip of quite more expensive and durable paper, folded in quarters, and at rest between pages 18 and 19, is a poem, written to you.  The poem imparts your own movement along the path of change and understanding of what it is to hum with the excitement of being and to wish to move beyond the freedom of lone-ness, into the charged dimension of connection, where selves crackle like fireflies in the summer evening.

There is also a much smaller book in the drawer, a Beatrix Potter book.  Two-and-a-half-by three-and-a-quarter inches.  This stays because it is the book you'd sought much of your earlier life, through hours spent in used book stores and libraries, the book that would have opened for you the secret of story and how to write them, understanding story as never before.  The Story of a Fierce Bad Rabbit.

The beginning of this book is stunning.  "This,"  it begins, opposite a drawing of a rabbit, "is a fierce bad rabbit; look at his savage whiskers, and his claws and turned-up tail."

You scan the drawing of this fierce, bad rabbit, looking for traces of savagery in his whiskers, and for portents of menace in his claws and turned-up tail.  You find none.  You turn the page in anticipation, whereupon you are confronted with:  "This is a nice, gentle rabbit.  His mother has given him a carrot."

There is everything you need to start out with on your journey to find story.  You have had this book for at least twenty-five years, which says of you that you kept it as a souvenir, a companion, a tool, marking your change from someone who sought this book under the most extreme circumstances, but would not have recognized it, had he found it any sooner than he did, would, in fact, have probably tossed it aside with great impatience.  Why are you presenting me with this?

You have, of course, changed.  You would have changed under any circumstances, but in the condition you now find yourself, you can account for most of the change having come through your efforts as opposed to the passivity of changes arriving at your door at random.

Through your activity, you have turned away some changes, fended off yet others, and in a great burst of hospitality, flung open the door to invite in yet others.

You reckon cosmic forces such as the ten thousand things of The Tao and the five hundred things of the things and choices about you.  Here and there, outside the drawer, you see see things that have come your way from previous lives, intended for different uses.  A dime-sized circle of intricate small pieces suggesting a Northwestern Indian totem design, glued to what appears to be a tongue depressor that has shrunk in the laundry, this intended as a book mark.  A pile of index cards with your own logo printed on them.  A pocket-sized note book, half filled with intriguing notes in your handwriting which you will spend the rest of your life trying to decipher or find some meaning that caused you to make them in the first place.  A brown elastic band, probably once a device for securing hair in place.  How came you by such a band?  What does it mean to you that you keep it?  What do the thoughts and things, and connections do for you?

Why of course, they do the things the rugs on the stamps do for you in your imagination.  They fill your days and nights with the adventures and information quests of your younger years and the realities they have now become.

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