What are we collecting?
For my final art project of the semester, I wandered into my mother’s old sewing studio. Most of the random assortments of fabrics had been moved and the equipment no longer cluttered the floor. Strangely, a different collection remained.
Do you have a grandmother with that old chest of china? It sits and collects dust. It does nothing but stare at you. Once, as a child, you dreamed that you could just climb up, open the chest, and your tea party dreams would be fulfilled.
Well, that’s what I saw in my mother’s old sewing studio. A collection of glasses and plates and cups, acquired over the years but sat unused, unloved. Just gathering dust.
As much as we’d like to believe we are efficient and resourceful, we often let our trinkets of knowledge gather dust in the shelves of our mind. The transition into the winter season is usually a joyful one, but I know that I am feeling a heaviness this December that has not been here once before.
I think back in March we were all hoping that quarantine wasn’t such a big deal. It was just a few weeks inside our home and then everything would turn back to normal. Now I feel uncertain of what normal means.
The days have become a new sense of normal. One that involves masks. Seeing people outside. Keeping the distance. But here we are at the end of this year with no clarity to what the future will hold.
In the normal we have crafted out of these not-so-normal times, we have collected some things. Heavy feelings. New hobbies. Different stresses. But I know we have also collected knowledge. Knowledge beyond what the nightly news tells us.
We have collected some knowledge and it would be good to put it to use.
Open the chest.
Maybe it’s a cabinet. Or a trunk. Or a box. Where your grandmother keeps all of old china and photographs and letters. For you, it may be your phone’s photo album. Or a spot in your house where you dump all the mail. Or the DVR where you recorded all the shows you waited to watch.
Take the first step and go where the knowledge is.
Turn around the glass.
We have different forms of recording and reflecting. Maybe this year you adopted a new system of planning, and it has tracked your work life and your home activities. For instance, I made a bullet journal for this semester, and I can’t tell you how much I love looking back at the earlier pages in remembrance of the time I spent with friends or crossing off a really difficult project. Just stock of what you’ve learned.
Sometimes we think that the things we learn need to be so profound or they’re not meaningful. Well, I disagree.
“These things do not matter except that they matter to us.
We have given them meaning
In the same way we have given each other a meaning.”David Levithan, The Realm of Possibility
Give the lessons you’ve acquired their meaning. Heed those lessons.
What did you return to this year?
The same way you return, your grandmother would return to her collection of china and add to it, where did you return and what have you gained?
Hinted at by the Levithan quote above, I returned to one of my favorite books, A Realm of Possibility. I needed to go back to those words and see what had changed in me. Those words still had the same way of moving me, but I found in myself the need to grow and desired that growth, despite being unable to figure out how.
I also returned to a beloved author and her poem, Nuclear Spring. From my very first blog post, you can see the influence of Marina Keegan’s work on my life. And as I took a turn in what I thought was a new direction, her words came back to me.
“So what I’m trying to say is you should text me back.
Because there’s a precedent. Because there’s an urgency.
Because there’s a bedtime.
Because when the world ends I might not have my phone
If you don’t respond soon
I won’t know if you want to leave your shadow next to mine.”– Marina Keegan, Nuclear Spring
Dust it all off.
After you’ve looked at the collection of photos or the documents of all the work you’ve done or the nightly journal entries, treasure the knowledge you’ve gained. Maybe this year you learned that you really are an extrovert. Maybe this year you learned that you need to spend more time with friends. Maybe this year you finally realized you weren’t happy and decided to do something about it.
The smallest pieces of knowledge will only do something if we’re willing to apply it. If we’re willing to take it off of the shelves of our mind and use it.
Place it on the table.
Even if the table has a broken leg. Even if the table has all the messy contents of old mail and unread books and a broken lamp and dishes that are too small. Even if the table is un-aesthetically pleasing and your friends would be too embarrassed to sit at it with you.
With your grandmother’s pretty china on the table, the stakes have changed. There is no more theorizing about someday. Someday when an important person comes to town, the china will be used. Or that special occasion. Or that anniversary.
You are the important person. And the special occasion is now.
Put your knowledge to use.
Use it as best as you can.
Wake up tomorrow using the tools that you’ve gained in a time that wore you down. In a time of destruction of old ways, create something new. Redeem it.
Use your knowledge, friends. Use what you gained this year for a better future.
What collection have you made this year? Share it in the comments below.