Collecting

I’m attracted to the object but drawn to the hunt. The search for treasure. The quest to discover the forgotten or see the unseen. Alas, I also find myself saddled with a great affection for, and tendency to personify, inanimate objects. As in, I might be wandering an antique or thrift store and come upon a small wooden goat, just sitting on the shelf, all alone. And the next thing you know, I have great empathy for the loneliness of said goat and I purchase it with my quarter and take it home and place him in a spot of prominence in my house, where he is adored daily and, I come to believe, is much happier.

goat

I collect a lot of handmade items. Embroidered textiles, quilts, table linens, pottery, and quirky handmade art, purchased from flea markets and thrift stores. A lot of my reasoning for procuring these items is not based on “sound” mind, but more from “feeling.” I find myself considering the maker and the time and care they took to create the item. I consider the delicate stitches and am struck by the patience they required. Or I notice the hurried and uneven stitches, demonstrating a drive for completion versus a desire of perfection; both create beauty in the end. I think about the individual making the item and wonder why there are no loved ones holding on to this bit of history, no family to admire this connection to their past. This makes me thoughtful and a bit sad, often driving me into my own almost-empty pocket to purchase the object and call it my own.

quilt

My consideration of the object is equal to my consideration for the creator. I honor those who came before me, whomever they were or still are. The residual energy that was once in their hands now lies in my own, evidenced by their creation being recognized, appreciated, and welcomed. If I am able to purchase the item or am only able to honor their energy for a fleeting moment, I am grateful to fill this role.

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I have been an avid collector of one thing or another for most of my life. Yet, with every filled space there must be an equal empty space. Somewhere. There must be balance. Even I reach limits with my madness, particularly with items that are not handmade and/or take up a lot of visual space. I’m a skilled purger of “stuff.” The Fiestaware dishes I had amassed became a monkey on my back and I rid myself of all of them. I’ve downsized my collection of wind-up toys (shown above, prior to downsizing) to only ones holding sentimental value. And I don’t seek out Peter Max items anymore, although I have yet to be convinced to rid myself of what I own. Oh, and that goat ^^up there^^? Come to find out, he was created by a Swedish designer by the name of Gunnar Ander. I sold him to a collector. He was actually kind of hard to let go, but I knew he would be properly admired, so we parted ways.

bourbons

All in all,  I’m much more discerning these days, only picking up items I simply can’t resist, for one reason or another. My book collection grows and grows, shrinks a little, and then returns again. That’s about the only thing I collect wherein I find I have too much and then, suddenly, not enough. Well. Books and booze. Liquor takes me in an opposite direction on the creation timeline, though. Instead of honoring the past while appreciating an object made long ago, I look towards the future and consider all the possibilities, all the concoctions I could create. Because, really, there’s not much more satisfying than an evening spent browsing through books on your own living room floor, with a freshly made cocktail in your hand.

Or maybe that’s just me.

 

 

Secrets

I had been visiting the shop since I was a teenager, a result of hanging out with my then boyfriend who liked to paw his way through all the used record bins, looking for classic rock, independent label punk, and oddball novelties. While he remained steadfastly focused on the myriad of album cover art and liner notes, my attention drifted to the books and the shop’s internal landscape.

Upon entering the store, there was a noticeable, distinct energy. The casual gruffness of the all male employees, the ever-so-slight musty smell of the used books and records, combined with the patchwork of flyers, photos, notes, and random bits of paper found taped to every available surface created a surprising sense of coziness one wouldn’t expect while standing on a linoleum floor beneath fluorescent lights. The ends of bookcases, the sides of record bins, the space between the top row of books and the ceiling, the side of the cash register, the glass of the door- any place where your eye might roam, your gaze would land upon a found secret note, a photograph, or newspaper article, long ago forgotten and rediscovered, stashed in a book. One could spend hours reading in the store, never opening a book, but feasting on the ephemera before them. For a girl who reveled in the smallest detail and was fascinated by secret intimate knowledge, I left the record buying to my boyfriend and simply wandered the aisles in awe.

noteinabook

Many years passed and, as luck would have it, I found myself actually being paid to spend my days in the land of dog eared pages and cracked leather bindings. I learned about the various types of paper on which the words are printed, the distinct style of individual book cover designers, the information contained on the copyright page, and how a book can be aged based on the quality of the linen, leather, or paper covering its boards. I learned that a dust jacket is a valuable asset. I learned about publishers, secret indentations, and the value or non-value of an ex-library book. And I learned that almost every person who walked through the door, looking to trade or sell their books, thought their heavy cardboard box contained some real gems. Only on rare occasions was this actually true. But we welcomed their box and looked and sorted through it all, brushing the mouse droppings aside, blowing away the dust bunnies, and wiping off a variety of sticky substances from who knows what. They brought us their books and presented their stories. We listened and acknowledged their feelings of sorrow, loss, sometimes even desperation. Occasionally, they left with a bit of cash in their pocket. But always, whether or not we took any of their books, they left feeling a bit lighter, their load a bit less heavy.

lecarre list

To this day, I love finding a note stuck in a book. Or an inscription containing wit and humor, only intended for the book’s owner. I once purchased a copy of Letters from the Earth by Mark Twain. It wasn’t a first, but an early edition with a dust jacket. The cost was negligible, I assumed due to a scrawling inscription that covered both the front and back end papers. I took the book home and stuck it on a shelf. It was probably six months or so before I took the book down, opened it and actually read the inscription.

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The inscription was written by Nina Clemens, Mark Twain’s granddaughter.


dunvilles

I still revel in small details and intimate knowledge, especially when discovered unexpectedly. I picked this single malt Irish up in Connecticut and now its mysteries are hidden in plain sight, right upon my home bar. All you need do is simply take a sip.

Lost and Found

The owner of the bookshop was known for his generosity. He provided support – emotional as well as financial – for more lost souls than I think even he realized. The schizophrenics, depressed, socially awkward, or those simply down on their luck – all were welcome in the door and were heard, actually listened to. Unstated requirements for employment were a sense of patience, a profound capability for empathy, and an interest in “other than.” All of us who worked there had a place in our hearts for the downtrodden, a love of books, and each with our own individual sense of social awkwardness.

My boss opened the letter, read it, and handed it to me. The author of the letter referred to the “cute girl behind the counter.” Someone had told him of my boss’s generosity and that we might be willing to send him some books, so he was writing to request some reading material to get him through his days in the county lock-up. As I was the ONLY girl behind the counter, the responsibility of filling the request fell to me.

The request was for some beat authors, Kerouac and the like, as well as some Richard Brautigan and Bukowski. Classic, I thought. A young man and his angst. I knew the angst all too well, as I was a big fan of the same authors at the time. I was still (and am STILL) on the fence about Bukowski. Some of his writings I connect with, but other times, he just comes off as a raging drunkard – which he was, of course, and is part of his appeal. He leaves me in that state of not knowing exactly HOW I feel about him, often enough that I don’t think I’ll ever shut the book on him altogether…but I digress.

I received the letter, gathered up some books, created a bill of sale (we were going to request payment, but rather nominal, to cover postage and our cost of the books), and packed them up and sent them on their way. I didn’t enclose any correspondence, other than the bill of sale and a simple note saying something like:

Here you go. Enjoy your books.
– The girl behind the counter

The letters continued to arrive at the bookstore, almost weekly, over the next few months. I had come to realize that our friend in jail remembered me from the bar where I worked as well. I began to have a vague recollection of who he was, a quiet sort, with a handsome face, that stood back and watched. The kind of guy that I generally didn’t pay too much mind to, other than to hand over a beer and take his cash.

He eventually asked me my name. I reluctantly told him, as I had grown fond of my nom de plume. I eventually ask how he landed in jail. He reluctantly told me. Apparently, he was upset with his girlfriend at the time (I don’t recall why), got very drunk, piled all her clothes in the driveway, and lit them on fire. She was none too pleased and called the cops.

And then, one day, he got out of jail and hitchhiked half way across the state to see me. We had a nice visit, walking and talking as if we’d known one another for years. He tried to find a job and hung around town for a couple of weeks and then…he was gone. He decided to follow his dream of becoming a writer, broke his probation, and headed West.

I haven’t heard from him since.


california whiskey_blog

Low Gap, a California whiskey gifted to me for my last birthday.

Dreamers may go to California, but the results of those dreams sometimes make their way back to us on the East Coast. A very light, easy, and extremely pleasant sip. No fires lit, no cops called. All is right and well.

Authenticity

My days selling used books were followed by nights slinging beer in a bar. My daylight hours wereI often found myself chuckling at the absurdity of days spent with people looking for answers followed by nights with people avoiding the questions. But it seemed to be exactly what I needed at the time.

While working in the bar, I didn’t take any shit. Granted, being surrounded by about 8 guys who have your back on any given night allows one to feel a bit brazen and self-assured. That being as it was, there were times when I was the one called upon to lead an asshole out the door. We had realized that a drunk is much less inclined to start a fight with a 5’4″ girl than a big guy working the door, even if she was wearing Dr. Marten’s and had a pack of Camel’s rolled up in her sleeve. It always gave me great pleasure to see the look in the guy’s eyes when I pushed my way through the crowd to tell him, “You. It’s time to go. You gotta GO. NOW.” As confused as they might be, they always left. Peacefully.

You see and learn a lot about human nature while standing behind a bar. Almost as much as you learn working in a used bookstore. Granted, the drunken, twenty-something and none-of-us-know-what-the-hell-we’re-doing kind of human nature is of a different sort than the nature of the tortured soul, depressed writer, struggling student, or ignored housewife who wanders the aisles of a bookstore…Or is it? You’d be surprised at how little the two populations overlapped, but when they did, I was grateful for the rare opportunity to serve in both capacities – as one who assisted on a quest for knowledge as well as provided the tools to momentarily forget what they already knew.

Ultimately, I felt much more of a connection with the answer seekers, be they a bit mad or unstable at times, than I did with the question avoiders. I had much more patience listening to the delusional ravings of a guy off his meds than to some tired ass line from a dude in a bar. They’re both exhausting, but the madman is at least being authentic.

Authenticity. I know it when I see it. I also know when it’s not there. An abundance can be found in both books and booze. You could also discover a complete lack therein. It all depends on your approach.


Straight up, no bullshit.

weller