POSTED: August 1, 2023
My physical world is quite small. Yes, I live on the planet and have traveled but on a day to day basis I don’t take up a lot of space. En Plein Air is a bit over 18 meters (59 feet) long and has a beam of 4.41 meters (about 14.5 feet) so while some people live on hectares of land my boat and her slip is pretty modest.
It means that much of my life is not wrapped up in owning stuff. Eventually everyone gives up the possessions they have collected over a life as they downsize or move to smaller accommodation to cope with their age but along the way most do amass serious collections of things.
I get it. Some objects are just nice to look at – art for example. It can take us away to a different place without ever leaving home. Some of it also has some great utility, like cool vintage furniture that you can appreciate for its design, materials and craftsmanship but also just use as a coffee table or lounging chair.
But there is a special category of things that people value as identifiers. Some are literal identifiers of course – the bracelet with a person’s name or the ring with their initials or birthstone. Some are more group identifiers like religious symbols or peace symbols, letting the general public know that they are part of a subgroup and proud enough of it to have it as their pre- eminent message. The first thing you must know about me is that I am …..
I get this for those things that are fundamental to a person’s sense of self but it is interesting to me how many will attach themselves to a more half-baked cause or idea – the Make America Great Again hats or bracelets for various causes. Some of these of course are a negative expression of identification – I am part of this and if you aren’t with me than you must be against me.
Usually when I talk to people about some object they value it is because it is a memento of some great memory or experience. Their dads watch or a piece of their moms jewelry, or something they bought on a trip long ago. The object is a manifestation of good memories. I like that aspect.
But some objects are not so overt but still are tools to help a person define who they are. The motorcycle jacket or the bike they ride, the watch they wear or the type of knives they use in the kitchen. It is as if by owning such an object we have acquired the same attributes it possesses – its uniqueness, attractiveness, or cache.
As a guy and a baby boomer I have always had a relationship with cars. As a kid and then a teenager the ranking of them, the details of their features, elements, engineering or physical design occupied a lot of my time. I was chatting recently with Larry, an old friend who had owned a couple of Isuzu Troopers over the years, much like my buddy Jim. They were utility vehicles that were overtly proud of that heritage, much like old Land Rovers and the owners saw themselves in much the same light – a bit rough and tumble, but capable.
Over the last while I have come to notice that as the world has become more complex and so many elements are interrelated, younger people have a much less shallow relationship with objects than some of us. They might love the lines of an old Jaguar XKE but be appropriately outraged environmentally by the notion of two seats combined with twelve gas guzzling cylinders. That objectivity is something that has taken me a lot of time to find.
I don’t have a lot of objects partially because of the space. But beyond that I would like to think that any really important ideas can’t be expressed neatly on a bumper sticker or a tattoo, as most good thoughts are more nuanced and contextual. But that notion of objects as manifestation of memories is an important one. I do value a little card with a recipe from my grandmother and a few other similar objects that can transport me to where I was when I received them.