Another Day in the Country
An accumulation of stuff
© Another Day in the Country
Since I am an artist, you could guess that around my house there is a room full of art supplies and shelves up to the ceiling in the garage filled with the same.
There are pictures all over the walls, cubbyhole organizers, dressers with drawers full of sketch books, colored pens, pads of paper, shelves laden with watercolor paints, acrylic paints, pastel chalk, little boxes to decoupage, big boxes full of papers and pictures, containers full of Sculpey clay and modeling paste, mini canvasses, and frames galore.
Because I am a writer, you can guess that I have shelves and shelves of books and pages and pages of manuscripts, things I’ve written, documents I’d hoped to get published, letters I’ve composed, letters I’ve received, poems I’ve written, prose I’ve saved, magazines too good to throw out, and files that constantly became outdated and overloaded.
I am also a photographer, working in color and black and white, with thousands of photographs taken, both in print and slide form, with digital pictures added to the mix in recent years — disks and photo files and now my phone full of them, any attempt at organization, be it boxes, notebooks, or digital files bulging with beautiful pictures, almost futile.
And I am getting older by the day. What on earth is to become of all of this?
Does it go into a landfill like all the taped interviews I’d done with various interesting people on my radio program years ago? Twenty years of storied shows — gone; pieces of my life, smashed under the wheels of a bulldozer in a California valley.
“You’ve got to look through these boxes,” my sister instructed. “Do something with all these photographs.”
Visions floated in my head of when Jess and I closed our parents’ home in Oregon. Mom sat catatonic, trying to sort her cassette tapes of precious things — bird songs, coyotes howling, choirs singing, Dad preaching, her telling bedtime stories.
“My best,” she’d write on a tape label, over and over.
In the end, we worked at night, after she’d gone to bed, sorting through the accumulation of things, deciding what to keep and what might sell, what to give away and what to throw away, and then what to bring to Kansas. It was gut-wrenching work.
“I want to be like Tony Meyer,” Jess said. “Remember how he prided himself in the fact that at the end of his life he had one box — his Navy footlocker — full of keepsakes and important things, which included the uniform he wished to be buried in. That was it!”
I also remembered when we shut down Dr. Shaw’s house in Michigan. It was going up for sale, and he was moving to a retirement center in California.
We called rare book dealers, antique stores, libraries, colleges, and museums in an attempt to find the right place for all the wonderful treasures he’d collected in 85 years of life.
“Go out to lunch with friends,” we told him. “Take a nap. Don’t watch. This is an excruciating task. Trust me.”
And for awhile now, I have been at that spot in life where organization is called for, sorting is required, and disposal is imperative.
“A little at a time,” I tell myself. “Consolidate. You can do this.”
In life, I’ve been so lucky to travel all over South America, then to India as a writer/photographer. This was before digital photography, and thousands of photographs remain with the company that hired me.
But there always were some photographs that weren’t used, and I kept some in notebooks marked “Panama,”“El Salvador,” Mexico,”“Guatemala,” etc.
“Do I just throw them in the trash and not even look at them again?” I ask myself.
At the moment, I’m working on photographs that I took in Singapore and Bali.
I had friends working at a college in Singapore. One day, Gary called and said, “Pat, we have a project that requires a photographer, a designer and a writer — tailor made for you. Will you come to Singapore for a couple of months and work?”
As I sort through the stacks of pictures, memories flood over me. I can hear this noisy bird, I think it was called a jackdaw, that would wake me up before dawn.
Of course, our windows always were open. I’d lie there in the dark and listen to motor scooters (the favorite form of transport in Singapore) arriving as students came to early morning class, and then I’d smell the flavored coffee that was Norma’s favorite treat and the scent of freshly baked bread cooling in a bread maker.
In a bit, we’d have egg and toast for breakfast, and the day would begin.
One of the many interesting fruits I was introduced to in Singapore — and the most stinky, foul-smelling edible that people learn to love — is durian.
The fruit is so pungent it’s banned from taxis and buses.
In my imagination, I can smell durian. In my hand is a photo of my friend Gary, trying to prove to me that he actually likes it. That was another day, in another country.