Tag Archives: dust

excavation

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the knot

My paternal grandmother died of cancer when I was 8. I inherited her sewing kit which I have faithfully moved around with me and constantly used and added to over the years. It’s here now in Australia and I opened it yesterday to add my newer sewing resources. It was in disarray. How did this knot get there? It’s like the little ends of thread from all the bobbins and spools worked their way together when no one was looking. The only way out of it was to break off several strands of this now very antique and newly hip thread on real wooden spools. A metaphor of my attachment to things: collected to preserve and rendered useless.

I set about organising the box yesterday as I realised I was not honouring my grandmother’s memory very well by holding on to the debris she left inside. I emptied the box, entirely, for the first time ever. I laid out the pieces. S. watched, asking questions, as she rummaged through my other inherited items looking for treasures she could play with. I dusted the box, discarded some items, but could not part with some of the most hilariously useless things. Captioned photography of the excavation below.

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the clutter below, never properly sorted

how i roll: keep the box for the stitch ripper for 20+ years

how i roll: keep the opened box for the stitch ripper for 20+ years

La Mode - maybe c. 1970, it was

La Mode – maybe c. 1970, it was

this unidentifiable green machine nearly sliced my daughter's finger. I had no idea what it was but I had 2, made in Italy. Oh, automatic needle threader. Of course.

this unidentifiable green machine nearly sliced my daughter’s finger. i had no idea what it was but i had 2, made in Italy. oh, an automatic needle threader. of course.

ideal for swimwear. complete with 1950s style metal clasp

ideal for swimwear. complete with 1950s-style metal clasp.

death trap debris. needles, snaps, screws, dust, everywhere.

death trap debris. needles, snaps, screws, dust, everywhere.

not so shabby chic. i presume i sewed this rotten elastic around age 8. trashed.

red owl. a minnesota supermarket i nostalgically recall.

red owl. a minnesota supermarket i nostalgically recall.

wtf? i red owl sewing kit?

wtf? a red owl sewing kit?

fashion patches, there were many

fashion patches, there were many

a 1966 Singer instruction manual, perhaps valuable on ebay. my sewing box matches the beautiful blue color.

a 1966 Singer instruction manual, perhaps valuable on ebay. my sewing box matches the beautiful blue color.

grandma would approve.

grandma would approve

separation

I just read a (very old) post on Hoarder’s Son in which he encourages adult children of hoarders to take action on their parents’ hoard before it’s too late and they find their folks dead and buried under a pile.

This sounded like the oddest advice to me. I mean, can’t we just ignore what our parents are doing? It’s their problem, after all. We have no control over their collecting, piling, keeping and the ruining of their home. Am I calloused to say such a thing?

One of the most healing things I have learned over the past ten years through divorce, remarriage, and relative separation from my hoarding father, is that I cannot wrap my identity up in anyone else’s. I did that for a long time with my father and was mortified to be associated with him and devastated to never please him. Then I did the same with my first husband, desperately trying to get him to conform to my world view because I felt, through marriage, we were identified together. It caused me far too much disappointment and frustration. I do not know at what point I realized that he was not me and did not need to be me. Perhaps it came out in therapy or sometime before that. When I was living alone in Europe in 2001-2002, I realized I liked myself much better as an individual. All the anger from trying to impose myself and my identity or trying to blend my identity with someone who was nothing like me – it was suddenly gone.

And now when I think about things I don’t necessarily like in my family members, I don’t really worry about it. Their bad habits and compulsions are their own. I have my own hangups to deal with. No one can fix my problems for me and I certainly cannot control theirs.

So when I look at my parents’ hoard, I have that maybe cruel feeling of – let them die there if that’s what they want. I have no intention of clearing out their house. I’ve taken any of my own belongings that matter to me. I’ve told them clearly they can get rid of anything I’ve left there… but how could I possibly push them to let go of that mess? I have no control over it and I am not equipped to counsel or help them in any sort of lasting way.

As I’ve posted before, it’s a regular topic of conversation with my brother. Who is going to take care of the mess? They know that my step-brothers want to burn the house (à la Gilbert Grape), and although I think I could tolerate being there to sort and throw things out to prepare for an estate sale, I really don’t see a way that this could happen while they are alive. I have no desire to hear the justification for each artifact and why it matters. It just isn’t my problem right now.

I want my parents to be healthy (they are suffering from respiratory problems that I presume are related to the accumulated mold and dust in their home) and safe and happy. But they are not me, I am not them, and I’m about to move as far away as I can go. I will further extract myself from their tangled behavior of hoarding and I will not be available to help them if the clutter collapses one day on top of them.

social hoarding?

The last few weeks while I’ve been buried in writing places other than here, I’ve been mentally teasing out the difference between collecting and hoarding. At the root of it, collecting seems to be a social activity – one that both takes the collector out into the world and one that brings others in to appreciate the collection. But what of hoarding?

Hoarders are known for the isolation that accompanies their stuff. They cannot bring people into their homes and their own family members are generally pushed out. Home becomes inhabitable. Stuff rules. But many of these people also lead active social lives outside of their homes, and they often seem outwardly gregarious. Is it just the home-space that is overrun with things? And then, in some ways, both the crazy couponing people and the collectors are making their homes unhomely by allowing their collections to take over, as organized and catalogued as they may be. The gathering/gleaning aspect of hoarding forces the hoarder into the world and in some instances does create social connections.

Of course, I could read one of the twenty research articles I’ve downloaded on this very topic rather than letting the digital files gather dust as I write into the vacant blogosphere from which answers rarely come.

story hoarding

I had a rare online chat with my step-mother on Saturday which led into questions about genealogy and then my great-grandfather and his mysterious life. While my step-mom unapologetically said she wishes she were interested in her ancestry, but she’s not, she very much wants my father to share his stories about our past. She dialed me up and gave the phone to my dad.

My dad and I spoke for about 45 minutes and he recounted stories about my grandfather’s childhood, growing up mostly with a single mom. I typed as quickly as I could while he chattered in a sort of non-linear fashion, thinking of additional points and background stories as he went. As he was telling me the most poignant stories that had been handed down, he remembered that while my grandfather was dying in the hospital, he had taken a tape recorder and recorded their dialogue. I don’t know what they talked about specifically but my dad confessed, “You know… I never listened to that tape.”

I urged him to find it and have it converted to digital format, something that baffles him completely. Instead he got sidetracked again and said, “You know … we want to start cleaning out the house and selling some of this stuff. But it’s probably going to take a long time.”

My father has been plagued with respiratory problems for the past five or more years. I’m fairly convinced it’s from the mold and dust that has accumulated in their stuff. He doesn’t seem able or motivated to have his health problems resolved. Instead he tells me he probably isn’t going to live that much longer – to which I nearly almost always reply, “but what if you do? What if you live to be 100?”

Closer to the point, however, are the stories that my father has been hoarding. He has family genealogy books and albums stored in the house, but his brain is the most cluttered space, crammed full of specific dates, names, places, and other details. I was able to take the information he gave me over the phone, from stories he had not lived himself but had heard from his parents, aunts and uncles, and I could corroborate most of the details using familysearch.org.

He’s unable to write down or record his thoughts in a usable way. I told my step-mom to put him in the car on the way to church, ask him a question, and hit record on a digital recorder. The man is haunted by so many stories that he relives readily, eagerly even, but he’s unable to save them for us. Why hold on to something valuable, only to watch it deteriorate from disuse? Why conjure it up in your mind repeatedly, obsessively, but be unable to materialize the object, to put it in its rightful spot, to store it away or relinquish it totally?

 

abandoned but holy

A colleague from New Zealand emailed a listserv today looking for the source of a poem by Nicole Brossard. I eagerly lept to work, digging through a box of packed up books and pulled out my 12 volumes of her writing. These works are almost sacred to me – one of them is personally autographed for me by the author. I have combed used bookshops in Montreal and Quebec City looking for pieces of Brossard, and yet, I realized today I’ve read precious little of her writing. That is saying a lot if you consider that Brossard only writes on about 1/3 to 1/2 of each page of her usually short works and that her poetry and novels look strikingly similar. It’s not as though the number of words are getting in my way of reading them. True, she’s difficult to digest, but also true that I think she’s brilliant and love her writing.

What’s standing in the way of my reading of Brossard? Me, of course. I put off reading what I love, I put off watching the movies that I adore, I put off doing tasks that I truly enjoy because I’m saving them for later. Reading feels so indulgent to me that I’ve become quite bad at it … and this is not at all a good relationship for a literature professor to have with books.

Brossard is not the only one languishing for years in boxes waiting to be read. She is joined by Cixous, Derrida, and Sebbar who have written beautifully bound words that accumulate dust on my shelves, waiting for me to reward myself with time to read.