I am a practitioner of the can-I-have-its, a collector of things. I am the sort who walks through antique shops touching everything, wondering what place these objects could hold in my life. I flip through the ikea catalog and salivate, just a little. I am, indeed, firmly ensconced in the material culture. As a result, I have a lot of stuff, a LOT of stuff. And as an artist, it's worse, because there is always some potential use somewhere down the road for that quirky rusty, something-or-other. In the last months I have been exploring the place of the gift in our culture, and the relationship between faith and fear and abundance and scarcity. I believe that the structure of artificial scarcity is not only self-perpetuating, but in fact, self-catalyzing. What happens when we believe that there is enough? What happens when we act on that belief? So in the spirit of the gift, I am embarking upon a mission to give away the things that I do not need. It is a practice of faith, and an act of rebellion against dominant capitalist culture. Is it a little crazy? Probably. Is it going to be hard? Absolutely. But here I go.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Thinking too much

Alright folks, it’s official. I’ve been thinking too much. This is how it always seems to happen: I get a new idea and I’m super excited about it. It becomes all-engrossing; it's full of possibility and potential; my fingers itch for the doing, and I dive in. It’s big and it’s scary and it’s fulfilling in all the right ways. Then something new about the project reveals itself to me, and I start to think more deeply about it. I examine it from every angle. I lay awake at night pondering the implications. Suddenly each move is important. Suddenly, how I approach it becomes a potential shift in trajectory, in meaning. Suddenly, finishing that painting (or clearing out that closet) matters too much.

I have thought myself into paralysis.

Now, it’s not as if there aren’t multiple layers of meaning to parse out here. There are. And it’s not as if I’m not deeply invested in mining and carrying out the many layers of meaning in this project. I am. Very much so. Too much so, in fact, and therein lies the problem. The very thing I’ve been seeing unfold as a major theme of this endeavor has simultaneously become its roadblock: attachment. Oh attachment. It binds me to things, to moments, to people, to potential, and when it surfaces, fear steps in. I sit still, and I close my eyes; I can’t get up; I can’t let go, and I can’t take action, any action. Of course that means I can’t really participate either. I've precluded my own engagement.

So what is the relationship between fear and attachment? The boilerplate answer, of course, is that once we become attached, we fear loss, and that certainly can be true. But I'm not sure that's it, exactly. Because for me it engenders that paralysis, that heaviness that makes action seem implausible. The fear of action is the keystone, the fear of doing it wrong (whatever that means). Once something becomes important to me, once I become attached, I know the thing my actions are in service of, and I want to do right by it. I feel responsible. I project a certain reciprocity of attachment. Once something becomes important to me, what I do for it becomes more important as well. I don't want to disappoint.

So here I sit with this gifting project, thinking and thinking and thinking—about the nature of the project, about the layers of meaning, about the best way to proceed—poised in the middle with one foot in and one foot out, wanting to move forward while feeling the weight of that familiar tug of fear. I've become attached, attached to the meaning of a project that is—among other things—examining the very nature of attachment.

The irony does not escape me.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

On the Nature of Needing

I've continued digging through the kitchen and now the floor and counters are strewn with tupperware lids, teapots, special little dip bowls, and more. I'll get to talking about that soon, but I want to take a little tangent for a moment. In my description of this project, I said, "I am embarking upon a mission to give away the things that I do not need". That immediately begs the question of how one defines need, and as I've worked my way into this project, I've found my notions of that concept beginning to change--or at least become a little slipperier, a little harder to pinpoint. Without getting so existential and abstract that I begin to question my need for clothes or forks and spoons--though that question is there, I had an uncle who lived with a single fork, spoon and knife, a pure and admirable rejection of material culture. Most of us can't do that though... right? Or can we?

Ok, I said I wasn't going to go that far, at least for today. So taking as a given some physical material essentials, clothes, dishes, a pot, a pan, silverware, etc... what does it mean to need? And how many different kinds of needs are there? My life is slightly easier since I bought that middle-sized pot at goodwill a couple of weeks ago. It serves a concrete purpose in my life, makes my life easier. But I'd be hardpressed to say I need it more than the doll that I've had since I was 4, who still lives in my bedroom closet, or my photo albums.

But what is it to need? What exactly is a need? I often think of Maslow's Heirarchy, though I don't completely buy it.

Here's how Mirriam-Webster defines need:
need noun \ˈnēd\
1 : necessary duty : obligation
2a : a lack of something requisite, desirable, or useful
b : a physiological or psychological requirement for the well-being of an organism
3 : a condition requiring supply or relief
4 : lack of the means of subsistence : poverty

need verb
1 : to be needful or necessary
2 : to be in want

What immediately strikes me is that need is defined as a lack. Therefore, is it a stretch to say that we only need what we don't have? That need is a desire, a wanting? We cannot, by definition, need the things that we have. Something about that construction of our language fascinates me. A need is something that is forever suspended in the external. In order to exist, it is and must remain perpetually out of reach.

So, if I am giving away the things that I don't need, am I giving away everything I own? No. Far from it. So far I'm defining the things I need as the things I have use for, the things I love, the things like that gravy boat that contribute to real joy and meaning in my life, the things that allow me to share that joy and meaning with others. Silly maybe, but I will certainly keep one set of extra blankets so that I may provide for guests.

In any case, part of my intention here is to try to allow room for that definition to start to wiggle around, and after some time and poking and prodding, we'll see what it morphs into. Most of all though, I'm trying to investigate the feelings of desire, attachment, and fear that seem to be so deeply embedded in our relationships to things.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Trepidatiously Entering the Kitchen

I live for Thanksgiving. Really, more than is reasonable. Nothing makes me happier than making a big ridiculous meal for people who I love, a day full of good food, good company, wine, gratitude. It makes me feel all warm and fuzzy just thinking about it.

As a result (or so I tell myself), my kitchen is way overstocked. Anything that's rarely (or never used) is mentally filed into the I'll use it on Thanksgiving folder. There are things that will (at least for now) stay in that file: The big platter for the turkey, the roasting pan, the gravy boat. I'm fine with that. These are things that actually contribute to joy in my life, contribute to something meaningful. But, I opened the 'baking cabinet' the other day. (If you've ever visited me, you know it as the one under the microwave that, when opened, causes a crashing cascade to the floor.) What a sight.
Now I may be able to convince myself that I need to keep that gravy boat, but 9(!) pie pans and cake tins. At even my most highly-attended thanksgiving I'm sure I never made more than 4 pies.

Ooh, and look at this lovely souffle dish. (That is what this is, right?)
And how many souffles have I made in my 31 years on this planet? Exactly none. But, for the ten years, plus or minus, that this has lived in my cabinet, it has waited with baited breath on that familiar precipice of but I might. (To be fair, it has been known to house stuffing or sweet potatoes on Thanksgiving. Still.)

And these pretty shiny French something-or-others.
Tiny cheesecake pans? Little flute-edged tart pans? I'm sure there is a fancy name for them. I'm sure in my fantasy life I'd use them all the time. But... I don't.

I'll admit, even, with a little shame that I have never used my flour sifter. I've thought of repurposing it to sift rosin onto a copper plate for making aquatints, but it's never had a use in my kitchen. I hear mothers everywhere (not mine, mind you, but that sort of ubiquitous stereotypical mother that almost no-one I know has) groaning. Maybe they're not mothers; maybe they're pastry chefs. Anyway. No, I don't sift my flour. Never have. A perfect me might, but once you can't use wheat flour anymore, even the hope for an absolutely perfect baked good is as good as gone. That ship has sailed.

I can't help but begin to wonder, am I stockpiling for a life that I don't have? A future life where every detail is attended to, and every thing has its perfect place? Have I been hoarding supplies for a fantasy?

It reminds me of what my boss at my first real grown-up job used to say. We've all heard it. Dress for the job you want, not the job you have. I know she meant sharp and conservative: black pencil skirts and simple black heels, blazers and understated jewelry... and I wore it, but I often thought of how surprised she would have been if I'd shown up dressed for the job I really wanted--jeans covered in ink and messy apron. The classic artist's uniform. My desires have shifted a lot since then, artistic genius and solitary studio life losing much of its romantic appeal, but that image within an image, the memory of my projected fantasy remains strong and clear. I wonder if I've perhaps been dressing my kitchen in much the same way.