Friday, December 11, 2015

Heirloom Quality

I'm in Florida this week, working through the lab component of a course in orthotics. (Long story.)

We wrapped up this afternoon, I went back to the hotel, and wandered out to grab some food. Along the way, I stopped to browse at an antique/collectible consignment place. In short, it's a basically a big space, subdivided into areas and cabinets, that they lease out to people who want to sell their vintage things. I went through a variety of emotions, walking through the place.

The place had just about everything. Vintage middle class furniture, in fair shape, considering what it was. A lot of tchotchkes. A lot of colored glassware that was etched or cast. Wooden models of jet airplanes. Matchbox cars, switchblade knives, broken woodworking tools, old books, (but not old good books... mostly dime store novels, cookbooks, and other miscellaneous drek) and so on. Notable stand-outs included:

-A complete set of commemorative Pepsi cans, each with a portrait of some character from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace; in a protective metal box, yet.

-An entire cabinet of Nazi memorabilia. (?!?) 

-A cabinet of colored glass skulls, plastic neon skeletons, and other high-school-goth accessories.

...And so much more. It was like they had taken the contents of so many old homes, and dumped them here in the hopes of getting pennies on the dollar.

And I walked around, and walked around, and went from curiosity, to horror (Ew! Nazi shit! WTF?!?) to frustration that people have such a tendency to collect garbage... and then to sadness, when something finally hit me.

I've been to open-coffin funerals before. And it's hard, seeing a body lying there, without a soul. And what was so hard about this collection of oddities was that it was basically the reverse: This store was filled with people's souls, left behind after the body had gone. Some of the collections were so clearly treasured items: Original boxes had wear and tear from passing through the years, but were in good enough condition that someone had obviously cared. Some were of sub-genres that clearly represented genuine interests for people. Even the Nazi shit.

I read somewhere that the point of having a religious altar isn't to offer worship to a divine being, it's to honor the things that you value in yourself. Because the things we think about become such an integral part of our reality, it's critical to have a special place to set aside, to hold and honor what you think is important. For some folks that can be a curio cabinet, or a shelf, or a room, or an entire house.

I remember when my mother was packing up her house, years ago, she was clearly struggling with the value she saw in everything. Almost everything had a story, a place in her life, or a special significance that nobody else would perceive, because they don't know the stories. Nobody else would remember that great-grandma thought this plastic pineapple was a big deal, because brass pineapples used to be a sign of good taste... and nobody had had the heart to tell great-grandma at the time, that the thing was plastic. Little stories like that, that add to the perceived value of the things that get left behind, that are part and parcel of the nature of our souls. Proof of life, that someone had once lived, and thought that this... thing... whatever it was, had value, of some kind, even if it was only to you.

It made me take a long look at what I think is important about woodwork, and building furniture: The hook that gets put in the water for so many people is, "This is heirloom quality. We're making it well, and making it right, so that future generations will..."

Future generations will... what? What will they do with it?

That was the question I was forced to ask myself, walking around in this anti-museum, made up of other people's lives, now on sale. Comic books and matchbox cars, and things that someone thought, for whatever misguided reason, would retain their value, or even appreciate. Things like Jar-Jar on a Pepsi can.

When I make things, I try to do the best I can to make things that will stand the test of time... if that's what is asked of them, anyway. It's cool to think that maybe, something I make would merit a place of honor in someone's collection, or even in a museum. (That's the North Bennet in me, I guess...) But the other side of working with wood then becomes an issue of "What are we leaving behind?" 

I think that for a lot of people who make things for family, they get to leave a part of their own soul behind for the ones they love. And that's really important. I very much want to leave things behind for my family, to show them that I love them, and to show them what human hands are capable of,  even in an automated, Minimum-Viable-Product world. I very much want to leave objects behind that tell anyone who will listen, to aspire.

But the more I turned all of this around in my head, the more I really saw with open eyes how much utter drek gets left behind. And I really, really, began to embrace my desire for minimalism. Maybe the finest objects aren't always called for, and we just need things that work well, and function as reliably as a hammer. They don't need to be fancy, they just need to work for as long as they can, and be put to a more dignified death than some of the pieces I saw today, even if it's just to burn them for warmth. Kind of like shop jigs, for the home... 

I'm still wrestling with this, and doing so on minimal sleep. But I'd love to hear what people think about this in the comments. 



I continued on my way to go and get food. But, cursed by geography, the nearest place to get groceries was a Wal-Mart. And they were doing their under-paid best, to get people to buy more worthless crap for the holidays. 

It really made me want to hate everything, for as long as I was stuck in that Wal-Mart.