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 we 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.