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, December 12, 2010

The pitcher breaks. You’re in the moving river.

Last night a pitcher broke, a celadon green pitcher that a friend brought me from the San Juan's sometime in 2002. It was the pitcher I always used to display flowers on my table. It had ridges from its forming on a wheel, finger divots, and when it broke, the earthy red of the terracotta burst through. I walked into the other room to avoid thinking about it, to abate the anger and sadness that arises when something is unexpectedly lost. It wasn't something I intended to give away, but its going elicited similar feelings in me. In the moment while I stared at the wall thinking of the pitcher, a line from a Rumi poem came to me. It seemed significant in light of all I'd been talking about all day—the gifting project and its nuances for me as an artist—"The pitcher breaks. / You’re in the moving river. Living Water, /how long will you make clay pitchers / that have to be broken to enter you? "

But as I flipped through Rumi's Open Secret, looking for that poem, I came across this one:

Unmarked Boxes

Don't grieve. Anything you lose comes round
in another form. The child weaned from mother's milk
now drinks wine and honey mixed.

God's joy moves from unmarked box to unmarked box,
from cell to cell. As rainwater, down into flower bed.
As roses, up from ground.
Now it looks like a plate of rice and fish,
now a cliff covered with vines,
now a horse being saddled.
It hides within these,
till one day it cracks them open.

Part of the self leaves the body when we sleep
and changes shape. You might say, "Last night
I was a cypress tree, a small bed of tulips,
a field of grapevines." Then the phantasm goes away.
You're back in the room. I don't want to make any one fearful.
Hear what's behind what I say.

Tatatumtum tatum tatadum.
There's the light gold of wheat in the sun
and the gold of bread made from that wheat.
I have neither. I'm only talking about them,

as a town in the desert looks up
at stars on a clear night.

It touched on something that is the metaphorical essence of this project for me, the flipside of the part of me that needs to make, that needs to house meaning. The meaning, the story, the joy, "moves from unmarked box to unmarked box." It goes back to the beginning of the project for me, why I started all this. A minister at the Unitarian church I sometimes attend said, "The way to cast out the fear of losing is to give your things away."

Things are containers for meaning, but that doesn't render them meaningless. They hold and carry meaning until the two part, until the meaning passes to a new unmarked box, until the box in your hand holds new meaning.