Friday, July 2, 2010

What I Think About Stuff

Yesterday was the last day I could use my college studio until next fall. This means I’ve got two full months ahead of me without access to a raku kiln, a soda kiln, the glaze room, my girlfriends Sandy and Ruth, my sanctuary. I’ve gotten used to having the two-month hiatus. The worst part is having to empty out my shelves. I think I have a problem with stuff.

I drove to the studio with minivan empty of everything except my 6-year-old son, Calder. He thought he was going to get to see people and maybe someone would give him a big piece of paper to draw on. But the studio was empty. So he had to sit in the car, a lone surveyor of all goings on from his booster seat. To keep himself from getting bored he sang a song of his own invention while I went back and forth and back and forth from the deep corners of the studio to the loading dock. I schlepped. I sweated. I cursed a few times under my breath. (Thank goodness Calder was singing). I filled the minivan with two big soda-fired pieces, 4 more large bisque bodies and the three pointy heads that go with them, two medium sized bisque pieces, and a number of boxes of hands, heads, feet and hair. Then I drove slowly home to try and find a place for all this crap.

Emptying my shelves is an emotionally charged event for me, a moment of assessment: This is what I’ve done in the past year. This is what I didn’t quite finish. Some pieces I still love. Some I seriously consider pitching but talk myself into keeping around. Some I trash immediately.

Mostly, I worry about the accumulation of stuff. I know that as an artist you end up having stuff around. Tools, sketches, inspiration, finished, unsold work, partially finished work, boxes of clay, jars of glaze, and crap. Lots of crap that might one day get finished and not be crappy at all. It’s part of the process.

A few years back, my sisters and my mother and I had to empty my paternal grandmother’s home after we moved her into an assisted living apartment. This was a few months after my father, her only son, had died quite unexpectedly. It was one of the more wrenching things I’ve ever done. Much harder than emptying my shelves at the ceramic studio.

Naturally, we found a lifetime of crap packed into Grandma’s 1800-square-foot ranch style home. She had a fondness for hutches and Hummel figurines. She had linen closets filled with soap, and what appeared to be a lifetime supply of feminine napkins and panty liners. She had a number of hobbies. (I’m telling you, it’s the hobbies that’ll kill you). She used to sew, crochet, do decopage, play bingo, and for a short while, she was licensed in cosmetology. All of the remains were still there: From ancient bobby pins and painful pink plastic curlers to stretch-and-sew patterns, leftover polyester fabrics, yarn, cans of varnish, dried out bingo daubers. Her biggest hobby was also the most dangerous: shopping. Grandma had an impressive collection of bargain-priced sweaters from TJMaxx, some still had the tags on them, and shoes galore.

The whole experience was so troubling to me, so exhausting to all of us. We dug and dug and found more and more stuff. My sisters took a few sentimental things home, but I resisted. I walked out of there thinking to myself: When I die, I will try my best not to leave behind any messes.

But that is impossible, isn’t it? Even if you aren’t an artist, the human life fills up with so much stuff. I see it in my boys’ rooms, try as I might to weed out the clutter, season after season. I see it in the corners of my own closets, tucked here and there. Yes, I have a need to be tidy, yet my need to create is even stronger. And let me state the obvious here: My god, I’ve committed to making a pinch pot every friggin’ day! WHAT was I thinking!?

I’m not sure what I’ll do about all of this stuff… Maybe it will strengthen my resolve to try and sell more. Or maybe I need to purge a little deeper. Garbage day is Thursday.


  1. It's an interesting problem, hoarding- or is it saving?

    It's a fine line between saving something for posterity, ("ah the children will love seeing this report card someday...") and just holding on for sentimental reasons ("what an impressive mosaic made entirely out of macaroni! a perfect mother's day gift!").

    My house is filled with sentimental "reasons".

    So is my closet. (won't even begin to describe the ongoing "fat clothes vs skinny clothes" part of the closet...)

    After moving house for my 85 year old mother, you'd think I would have caught on... instead I brought a suitcase full of her "crap" home with me.

    It's a never ending battle.

    So then you sell the stuff, and what?

    Of course, it becomes someone else's mess!

  2. STUFF: good to read others have problems with stuff as well.
    As truestarr wrote "a house filled with sentimental reasons". I'm there with ya...