Tag Archives: object

hoarding is a mental activity

My head is stuffed up, or maybe just stuffed. It’s full of gunk, if not information. And because it’s completely clogged, I decided it wise to take the bus instead of my bicycle to work on Wednesday.

Suspected bus-sprawling hoarding woman was sitting in her same spot, this time with only her purse on the seat next to her. I realized I’m too quick to judge. But more to the point, I realized I create stories in my mind attached to all kinds of random people I see throughout the day. Somehow when I process information, it never rests simply in my mind. I attach all sorts of meta-data (or in this case a meta-fiction) to it. How I’m able to draw out any meaningful conclusions or produce much from the accumulated mental mess, is quite miraculous. Yes, I did just say I impress myself given my “cognitive difficulties” (said to me by my PhD committee during my preliminary exams a decade ago).

Akiko Ikeuchi Knotted Thread - Red 2009

Akiko Ikeuchi Knotted Thread - Red 2009

The point is (this is some fine writing), hoarding has been defined as an activity that detrimentally impacts your ability to live in a space. In that view, hoarding is only defined by its physical manifestation. However, Frost and Steketee have also looked at “information processing deficits (e.g., attention, organization, memory, decision-making).” I believe hoarding is a mental activity and one that plagues me even though I have mostly slain the over-accumulated-object aspect of it. At the root of it, our brains are overwhelmed with a knot of information that we can’t always properly untangle because we get distracted by the various threads within it. Sometimes those knots can be quite beautiful and productive; sometimes the knot is just a messy obstacle to what lies beneath.

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?

 

memory hoarding with Sebbar

I’m working on a presentation on Algerian-born author Leïla Sebbar and how she may be using her collections as a source of memory hoarding. Certain objects recur in many of her texts such as postcards of the Odalisque, Parker pens, Singer sewing machines, and so on. I just read today on a French culture (www.evene.fr) site that she collects tobacco boxes because they represent a generational gap: “les pères algériens chiquaient, leurs fils fument des cigarettes” (‘Algerian fathers chewed, their sons smoke cigarettes.’)

In Sebbar’s 2004 book Mes Algéries en France (My Algerias in France), she presents other visual collections that I can imagine pinned on the walls of her office or in front of her in her work space. (She photographs the snuff boxes for this book.) When I opened the book today to take a few snapshots of her pages, a few of my own collected trinkets fell out: a used iTunes gift card, a makeshift bookmark leftover from a Target ad, and a promotional card from Delta with “Destination Paris” complete with Eiffel Tower facts on the back. Sebbar is so easy to judge, yet I obviously have a soft spot for her object fetishes.

haunted by this object

This blog post has been nagging at me for more than a week, building in the back of my mind, much like the object inspiring it. It has bothered me so much that I wonder if the key to my memory hoarding lies within it.

I went to Iraq and Turkey in 2003 on a memorable, emotionally draining, terrifying and exhilarating journey. After our three days in Kurdistan with little time to do more than work and acknowledge the fragility of our lives, we returned to Istanbul to relax for a couple of days. My very favorite memory was a visit to a Turkish rug shop. After visiting the workshops, watching hunched-over women at their looms, seeing the silkworms, the dyed thread, and the extensive labor that went into each woven piece, our group was led into a grand room. We were seated on benches along the walls, served tea, and a spectacular display of color began. Several men came out with rugs in various sizes, and as they rolled them out across the floor, the fireworks began. It was like a splash of magnificent colors filled the room as each rug was dramatically unfurled before us.

I was still a newly employed academic at the time, struggling with student debt and a recent move across the U.S. I carefully weighed my options and I purchased a cotton on cotton rug, approximately 4′ x 2 1/2′, for a negotiated price of about $300. It was a sacrifice and a reward for me.

This rug, like most of my prized objects, has been rolled up and stored away for most of the time I’ve had it. I intended to hang it from the wall, but never managed to figure out how to display it. I had it out in my room a few times, and each time the cats scratched at it and broke threads. Then we remodeled our home a few years ago, and although it was rolled up, the rug was in our family room. The house sitter at the time had a puppy, and when we returned, I found a piece of the chewed rug, detached.

This is where I might have realized I had a problem. I was devastated. It made me sick to my stomach to see my beautiful tapestry “destroyed.” D. could not understand why I was so upset. After all, I had left the rug out and the house sitter was doing us a favor by being here. How could I be upset with him about a rug that only sat in a closet all this time?

I rolled up the rug and put it away. It has been in our daughter’s room until this morning when I finally dragged it out, afraid to unroll it and confront the damaged piece.

Two things occurred when I finally looked at the rug. I felt a warm moment of joy when seeing the beautiful and delicate pattern that drew me initially to this piece of art, and the chewed edge seemed far less onerous than I remembered it. I kept that separated chewed edge somewhere, but now I cannot find it … just another missing object that looms in my memory larger than life. The remaining rug, though, survives mostly intact.

I felt anxious every time I considered writing about the rug, and now that I’ve put it out there, I only feel I’ve honored both the object and the warm memory it represents – a beautiful fragment of nostalgia. Even the missing piece and the frayed edge seem to suddenly have a sense, a value, that adds to the meaning of the tapestry. Why would I cling to the ruined shard instead of the mostly intact object, and how did I recuperate it from ruins here in my writing?

keeping a piece of you

A long discussion on hoarding with a good friend yesterday yielded the following story:

I can remember myself going down that path, and being surrounded with stuff, some for stability in a way; some for memories, since I’m one of these people that have big chunks of my memories/past missing, so I think I was trying to hold on to something. I still don’t remember a lot of my youth, but maybe I don’t need to or care to anymore, since I’ve reconnected on a much healthier level with my family, and have (I hope) healthier friendships. Now I’ve moved on to getting rid of stuff and can’t really imagine ever going back to saving everything. I even kept broken pens, I couldn’t throw them away, I used to think they would be lonely without me.

When I was talking to my sister’s boyfriend (N.) who helped my mom move, I remember he said something about a couple of things she kept that to him made no sense. They looked like trash, old stuff. When I got to my mom’s place I saw them immediately, but proudly displayed: a mirror from a great uncle, a kid’s chair my brother/sister and I used, a magazine holder I made in school, a table and a toy pirate ship my brother made. Apart from the table, the little chair, and magazine thing, still usable and in very good shape, I can see why N. thinks it’s crap (even the chair), but I think that’s how my mom keeps us there with her. No hoarding by any means, but our conversation made me think of it today. The way we look at things and the importance we attached to them is really in the eye of the beholder.