Jill and I retiled a table recently. It’s a small piece, one that Deb and I brought back from her mother’s house when we cleaned it out after her mother’s death. The whole family made the trip to Santa Fe in July. We focused in and made quick work of sorting through a life’s accumulation of material objects. The time Table.blogwe spent there was in the middle of the time when I was having the most difficulty with my medications, so I was overcome with hallucinations and I was terribly paranoid; I was certain that the rest of family resented me because I couldn’t do as much work as everyone else. I was also quite depressed, so I was intensely aware of the poignancy of the project at hand. The idea that all of our lives come down to a collection of objects that others have to decide whether to keep or discard goes without saying. However, when I thought about it I wondered about the objects in my own life – the ones that surround me and that I value. What are their points? Why do I keep them? Why do I think I need them? What purpose do they serve?

The value of some objects seems obvious to me. I have in my possession all of my family’s photographs. What I have never done, though, is bring them up from the basement, sort through them, and have them digitized so that they can be shared with other family members and preserved. Instead, they languish out of sight and out of mind. There are also other objects that have sentimental value and a few that have real value. Mostly, though, the objects that surround me are strikingly similar to the objects that surround most people – televisions, furniture, etc. Right now, the tiled table has my attention because its beauty arises from the chaos of the tiles’ layout. The rows are uneven and there is very little symmetry in their layout. The fact is, though, that’s what makes it beautiful. Like most of the objects I choose to surround myself with, this table fits into my world because of its resistance to conformity.

That resistance, the tendency to go against the idea that the world is made up of things that “go together,” that match, pleases me because I have always felt like I don’t quite “match” the rest of the world. In some ways, I have come to embrace that feeling as part of my identity. In other ways, it’s hard not to feel a little vulnerable when I realize that I identify as an outsider. It’s what I want and what I value, but it’s also what makes me feel vulnerable and sometimes even lonely. In some ways, this table is special because it has a little history. We decided that even though it was just a little thing we would take it home because we thought it was cute. By the time it reached Ohio, though, all of the tiles had come off of the base. That’s why Jill and I decided to re-tile it. The choice to save it rather than dispose of it reflects the fact that I have developed a kind of emotional attachment to it in a very short time. Do I see myself reflected in its imperfections? Do I think of the table as symbolic – as a reflection of the way people behave toward imperfect objects (and perhaps even imperfect people) they value?

Honestly, it’s not clear to me what about that table that has touched me at such a deep level, but I feel connected to it the way one feels connected to all those objects that somehow seem to reflect our internal emotional lives. As I have returned from the crisis I was in for the last year or so, I have been consumed by a kind of sadness about the time that I lost. There’s so much that I don’t remember; there’s so much that I don’t know how to do; so much I changed that I now need to correct. Every day is a new set of chores – correcting changes I made to email accounts, untangling other kinds of account changes that I made, trying to remember why and how I changed providers of things like catheters, etc. Some days, I identify strongly with that table, like the pieces of my life simply don’t fit together right now. It’s a matter of continuing the struggle to organize the rows so that all of the tiles fit even if they are imperfect.


14 thoughts on “Retiling
  1. Oh, Michelle, as always, a very stirring post . . . reminds me that life is imperfect, some days, more or less, some ways, more or less. Here’s to the newly tiled table and its perfect/imperfectness!

    • Thanks, Lucy. Of course, Deb looked at the table and immediately said that she could’ve fixed it to be much more symmetrical, but Jill and I decided to embrace its imperfections and leave it as it is.

  2. My tiles have never lined up. When I think about it I am glad they don’t.

    When I had cancer 20 years ago I went through most of my belongings and got rid of anything personal. I burned letters and threw out mementos. I knew I was going to die and I didn’t want my husband or son going through these belongings.

    Now having MS I find myself still trying to simplify my life. I don’t need half of what I have. Things I thought would be sentimental to me are just possessions. I feel heartless, not caring about my families antiques.

    I am glad you connect with the table you restored. It is a touchstone.

    • I know, Lisa. When we look around us it’s hard not to notice that we are surrounded by possessions that really mean very little to us or anyone else. That said, it’s hard to think about parting with them. So, whether it’s a love of the objects or simple inertia, we keep them around us and leave the mess for someone else to clean up. I guess it’s the way things work.

  3. perfection is overrated. The table is lovely and so are you. thank you so much for sharing and stating clearly what I feel but cannot say half as well.

  4. Poignant post. Some of my prize “possessions” are those I’ve restored or made by myself or others, and those objects are far from perfect. But they’re more special to me than a 1 mil ugly painting done by someone else. Keep recovering and writing.

    • Nancy, I would’ve known without you even telling me that your most prized possessions would be those that are less than perfect. Ever since I’ve known you I’ve been aware that you really understand the beauty in that which is just a little off-center, off the beaten path. I love that about you.

  5. Dear ProfSpazz

    What a beautifully worked metaphor, professor. Visually strong, full of pathos and what I would describe as the universal feeling of loneliness. We all come and go alone do we not ( appologies to twins, triplets and litters of puppies)?

    Thank you for articulating what must be the disturbing process of trying to re-construct a recently lost pass. May I observe that whatever the meds were doing to you internally you were looking beautiful on the outside. Maybe that was partly down to an air of vulnerability. However, Dorothy, I am glad to have you back home in Kanas puzzling out the post tornado story.

    Love you,
    Jane

    • Leave it to you, Jane, to tell me that I’m beautiful no matter what. I can always count on you to make me feel better about myself. I am forever grateful for your positive and loving presence in my life.

      Here’s to the chicken in the sky. May she forever stay there unmoving, a kind of beacon we can see from opposite sides of the pond.

  6. Let me say again that I am so glad you’re back! I love you and am more happy than I can say that you’re no longer being overdosed and suffering all that goes with that.

    I like your comment about the beauty of imperfection. It’s not quite that same thing, but there’s a truism in quilting that if you really want your quilt to “pop” you need to use one fabric that clashes with the rest because it’s that tension that makes the beauty. I think this is why so many western quilters find Japanese fabrics wonderful–our U.S. aesthetic is different (and limited) enough that the spectrum in Japanese fabrics can seem “off” to us in that wonderful way that is so much more beautiful than something that matches.

    I love you!

    • I love the idea of connecting tiling to quilting. In some ways, it’s an obvious comparison. Thanks for reminding me of that. I love you Sarah-Hope and I’m glad you’re here for my initial return to the world.

  7. Michelle, So glad you are back with us in the blogosphere. You remind me of my grandma’s dining room table. We’ve kept it, although it has one leaf that doesn’t rest plum. My great uncle made it. My father refinished it. Someone suggested I take it to a “real” antique repair place to get it fixed up, and I was so insulted. We just don’t put anyone at the end that angles to the floor. XXXXOOO. Ann

  8. Michelle,

    As always seems to happen when I read your words, your post has hit something deep in me. I am blown away by the connection you make between your resistance to conformity and your interest in objects that resist. I am similarly inclined. I connect that, too, to my interest in giving consumer culture the finger. The saving and retiling work you and Jill have done feel beautiful to me for all of those reasons, and more. I love that you saved this strange little beauty. It’s wonderful and beautiful. It suits you.

    Love,
    Kai

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