Monday, June 22, 2015


My friend and I were sitting in a bookstore a few hours ago watching a hipster play a violin (quite well, I might add). He interrupted his own music every once in a while to give a very long explanation about how we are all "connected" and something about "use things, love people, and don't mix those up."

This was clearly an event for a crowd I only vacation in occasionally, usually wishing that I could find a way to stay longer. Just like real vacations. And, just like in real vacations, my quick glimpses into hippie-ville are interrupted by these things called REALITY. And RESPONSIBILITY. And sometimes LAZY. 

The hipster went on for while until he was interrupted by the extremely dramatic entrance of a man quoting poetry in his loudest voice and from the back of the room. He sauntered in, yelling words that nobody was listening to because none of us were quite sure whether someone else had called security already or whether nobody had called security because everyone had assumed that someone else had. 

This is why I always call 911 when Glee comes on TV. I never want us to fall in that "someone else is probably taking care of this" trap.

As it turned out, the dramatic reading was part of the show. This shouldn't have been a surprise as mere moments before this occurred, the musician had tied a long wire with bells around the entire audience, claiming that he had somehow bound them with love. 

This was clearly one of those shows where nothing makes sense but you're supposed to act like it does or risk looking like you're too mainstream to have depth.

So I pretended to wipe, like, a thousand tears during the course of the night. And at one point I took my pants off and told everyone to embrace "expression." Then I hurried and put them back on because even though I was among hippies, it still felt inappropriate. You guys. THIS WASN'T THE PHARMACY!

The experience was fine, overall. And I swear I caught a few glimpses of Bob and Cathie circa 1976 in the crowd. They were the ones with flowers in their hair and a surprisingly disturbing ability to lie to children for purposes of their own entertainment. Hashtag faked deaths.

Then this blogger got up and started talking about how he doesn't own anything anymore because things are destroying us and we're all hoarders and if you buy anything you might as well go straight to Hell but here's my new book and you should pick one up on your way out.

I actually did get inspired by some of what he had to say. And I politely nodded and muttered a few supportive "amens" because I think I'm in a Baptist church in the south at all times. 

He had a point about the whole "stuff can never make you happy" business and how we can all benefit by creating experiences and memories instead of accumulating things.

But then he said something that totally, absolutely, did not resonate with me.

He said that many years ago he found a box at his mom's house full of his school work from his childhood. He opened it up and "realized" that his mom had kept these things for the memories. But memories aren't bound in things. Memories are something internal. The things are irrelevant. So the box of his school work was a waste of space.

I'm not sure whether he said that he threw that box out or not. I kind of got distracted by the point he was trying to make. Because the point was so inconsistent with my own experience.

I understand that memories and feelings are internal. And I believe that objects prompt different emotional responses in different people. But to say or imply that things are irrelevant because they don't contain the memories feels like, pardon my French, not true.

Things may not contain the memories. But they prompt the feelings and emotions in me in a way I don't think would be possible without the things.

That's why tears came to my eyes when my parents gave me a framed painting my Great Grandpa Hinckle did in 1968 and that's why I feel a flood of warm memories rush over me when I look at it now as it hangs on my dining room wall.

That's why I feel and experience a real and solemn reverence every time I pick up this small stone sitting on my bookshelf, which stone I picked up off of the scorched Maidan streets in Kyiv Ukraine last year just a few months after the fighting moved East from that spot. 

That's why I smile every time I see the Christmas card my Queen-Noor-loving grandma sent to me, hanging crooked on the front of my fridge.

That's why I suddenly think of and appreciate all of the coming-of-age experiences I had in college when I see the copy of Moby Dick a former roommate gave me in 2004. A book I still haven't opened to this day.

That's why I get chills sometimes when I open the roll-top desk I saved from destruction several years ago, which desk Cathie used with dedication as she plowed her way through college despite some nearly insurmountable opposition and extremely limited finances. And that's why I feel inspired so often when I look at it now as it sits, ragged and worn, in a bedroom in my old house that is full of nearly a century of memories I don't even know but that I care about just the same.

I get it. The accumulation of things is not as valuable as the accumulation of experiences. But I don't mind accumulating things that are made valuable by those experiences. And when I'm 102 years old, I'll be that decrepit man who has been wearing diapers for seven decades, pulling out shoe boxes full of drawings of The First Eye and seashells collected from Palauan beaches. I'll dust off birthday cards from people who died fifty years before but never stopped affecting me. And I'll delicately handle the poem I hand-wrote in the second grade.

I'll tell the people around me that everyone dies, but not everyone lives. And I'll let the things that I've kept and respected and preserved be part of the proof that I lived. 

And hopefully my family will forgive me of my nonsensical lamp-hoarding problem in light of the sentiment.

~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. "I'll dust off birthday cards from people who died fifty years before me but never stopped affecting me."
    Love this. A lot. This spoke to me.

  2. And this reminds me that we need another segment of the Lost Journal Series! We love those in our house!

  3. I have a small flowered pitcher that my aunts used to use as part of their coffee service. Every Christmas brunch or family gathering I'd see it on their table and use it to add cream to my coffee. They're both gone, and it's mine now. I have a creamer-sugar bowl set that matches my china, but when I have my family over, I use my aunts' pitcher instead. In my mind's eye I see them checking it, re-filling it, carrying it in from the kitchen; so when I hold it, I can feel their hands holding it, too. I couldn't agree with you more: things are NOT irrelevant because they don't hold memories.

  4. I recently went through a bunch of old pics of my kids growing up (I'm probably about Cathy's age...eternally young) and gave them to my 2 sons. I decided why wait for me to die for them to find them. They both thought I was kind of crazy to give them up now but once they got home and opened their boxes they were both so happy I did. My youngest son called me to say he and his children were having so much fun going through everything and him talking about his childhood with them. Keeping things is good...knowing when to give them up is even better.

  5. That person is equating materialism to memento's. Objects that help us to remember moments in life that are important. All five of our senses can be used in this way and helps us to remember the past. Preferably good memories, or memories that helped us to learn something in life. I find smells work on me the most. My grandma's house had a certain smell in it when she cooked and when she didn't. And there are times when I get a hint of this smell and it pulls me back in time in an instant. It's an incredible feeling. I wish I could bottle those smells and remember those times more often, but I can't. Other things like pictures, objects, sights, sounds, the way something feels...even the taste of something, can bring you right back to a moment in time. You can even use all of these things for meditation and prayer as well. So I agree with you that, on this subject, that guy is out to lunch. Keeping a few memorabilia does not make you a materialistic person. It just makes you nostalgic and sentimental.

    1. Okay - so I agree that the hippie was full of crap.

      HOWEVER - I think something Lee says here is important: " Keeping a FEW memorabilia does not make you a materialistic person. " (I added the capitalization for emphasis. Sadly - hoarders do exist and they often have a mental problem letting anything go and they tie nostalgic significance to it. I have one room like this. Every six months or so I go through it and discard items that are no longer significant (like that movie ticket stub from two years ago). Somethings are more easily discarded. Some are less. Some are discarded because people are no longer part of my life. Some are kept because people are no longer part of my life. However, it's important to keep things reasonable. Because if you don't - then it becomes unmanageable and it takes over your life.

    2. Totally agree with this Nicole. My son gets into that hoarding attitude. I think I am somewhat the same sometimes. So every once in a while we just go through and purge items. And you'll know that what you got rid of you didn't really need, because after you get rid of it you feel this relief lift off your shoulders as if you just cleansed your life of something.

  6. There's a book I got as a housewarming gift called The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Condo. My husband read it and one of the ideas it shares about cleaning out your home is to get rid of anything that doesn't inspire joy. I love this because I have so many memories tied in to pieces of art or little trinkets around my house that I'm sure a lot of people would throw away

  7. I wish you would do a "Where Are They Now" post on all the characters from the past. Like what is Daniel up to, Jolene, Curt (cute hospital worker?), etc....

  8. At 102 you have been in diapers for 7 decades! Am I the only one who did the math!?!? 32 Eli, 32!!!

  9. I'm so tired of "enlightened" people condemning the way the rest of us live. If you find value in those things because of the memories they conjure, that is a good thing. There's nothing wrong with having material things. They can and often do give us access to thoughts and feelings that might be long forgotten otherwise.

  10. Nice thoughts, I agree. Now open that copy of Moby Dick.

  11. I wholeheartedly agree with you. When I picked up and moved 1000 miles away from home for work (in 4 days, I might add), I didn't have the luxury of bringing all my possessions with me. I had to pick certain things that meant something to me and I feel like I picked the perfect items that made my new city feel a little more like home, when it was about as opposite of my real home as it could get. A picture of my grandparents. A small statue a man in Greece gave to me for free when he realized I didn't have enough euro with me and knew how much I loved it. A small teacup and saucer from Japan that was given to the Governor of Florida while I worked for him and I got at the auction the state held after his term was over. My icon of St. Constantine and St. Helen (my namesake). My favorite photo of my parents and I from when I was little and a jewelry box that contains my baby bracelet from the hospital. It's not much, but in the darkest times after I moved, when I questioned whether I made the right decision, when the loneliness was so great I couldn't breathe, those "things" brought me back and calmed me. They give me comfort when I can't see and hug the ones I love.

  12. It's so funny to read this today... I carry my grandmother's wallet. It's red, eel skin leather, and probably by most people standards tacky. But it was her's and she happily carried it until the day she died, she was so proud of that wallet... because I guess carrying around leather made of dead sea creatures was a "thing" back in the mid-90s. I don't remember, I was 7 and still wearing light ups because they made me run faster. Anyway, today I had to use my debit card and noticed a smell and automatically thought of her... it was her smell, and was flooded with memories. But had that silly wallet been thrown away 20-some-odd years ago, I wouldn't have randomly had those memories today and that's kind of sad to think about.

  13. I think materialism is buying stuff to have stuff, buying bland art just because you need something on the wall. I want the things in my home to mean something. same with my plants. I don't buy whatever is on sale. I collect from people I care about and plant plants that give me joy, not just fill up my yard. is it materialism if you didn't buy it, but rather inherited it, or created it?