Things on my mind

Things are all that is on my mind lately. My things. All of my things. Things that belong to me, belong to me because I bought them, or they were given to me, and have followed me like puppies, like sheep follow their shepherd. Some have flown across oceans, only to be put on a shelf, in a box, never looked at except when I’m about to move again, and suddenly that clipped-out comic makes me laugh again, and I cannot throw it away.

“The thing about things is that they can start meaning things nobody actually said/and if he couldn’t make something mean something for me I had to make up what it meant”

Maybe I’ve mentioned it before, but I struggle to let go of things, physical and emotional. I assign a lot of meaning to things that are otherwise meaningless. I store memories in my things. I look at my Stitch-shaped hand mirror and think of the classmate from dance school who gave it to me in Hong Kong years ago. She was so hapless and kind, loved dancing but couldn’t dance with her turned-in duck feet. I have photos of her and all of my classmates, but I can’t get rid of the mirror, it reminds me of her, of that time, when I was obsessed with having cartoon characters like Stitch and Cinnamoroll emblazoned on all my things.

I’m packing boxes to send back to the States, to live in my grandmother’s basement until I can find a permanent home for them. A permanent home. That word seems so impossible to me. All of these things with their stories will wait in darkness for me to come rescue them, but they may never have a home. I have bought so many things thinking “I need to have this on my wall, on my shelf, I love the lines of this drawing, the colours on this box.” But will they have a home where I settle? Will there be a shelf, a wall that is suitable for them? Sometimes I feel I am a fool, that I shouldn’t store these things away, I should abandon them, and start fresh completely. But then I look at the stone painted red and gold with dancing fish, and think of my great-aunt who bought it for me when she took us to see the Chinese art exhibit in San Francisco. This was after our family had moved across to Shanghai, completely against her wishes and advice. But she still took my brother and cousin and I in for a few weeks over summer, allowing us to stay with her and my great-uncle in San Francisco. I haven’t really heard much from her since then, but she is not lost from my thoughts.

I don’t want to live in a virtual world. I don’t want all of my identity to be stored on a server somewhere, stored on a hard-drive. I am a child of the Information Age, but I am not going to let go of my corporeal identity so willingly. My clothes, my books, my mugs, my blankets, my box and stone collections, these are me. I am not just my Facebook, I am not just the journals saved on my computer. I will not digitise my entire existence. I feel the need to assert this because I am scared. I am scared of losing parts of “me” that no one else sees a reason to keep. The saying is that “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” but perhaps it’s the opposite: one man’s treasure is another man’s trash. How can you know what that rock means to me? If I never told you that I took it from the deepest cave I’ve descended to date, you would chuck it away without a thought.  Once I am gone, who will remember the stories of my things?

I cling to things, I cling to memories. I have travelled so far, and perhaps with a suitcase that is far too full. I have travelled this far and I have made it on my own, but not without the support of my friends and family. And when you are all so far away from me, how else will I remember you? If I can look around a room filled with things that I have collected that remind me of everyone I have known, regardless of whether these things mean something to me that “nobody actually said”, I still feel much less alone.



THE THING ABOUT THINGS – Amanda Palmer, lyrics from her blog here , edited because the version she sings is a little different

i’ve loaned a lot of things to a lot of friends

like records and dresses and books

and some of the time i never see them again

and in a strange way i think that it works

because the thing about things is they start turning evil

when you start to forget what they’re for

and so if you’re not sure what you did with my sweater

i’ll just have to love you a little bit more

i had a ring it belonged to my grandfather

he was a mason

and gay

and he was distant and bitter for all of my childhood

and we never had much to say

he wasn’t the type to give tokens of affection

and i stole ring when he died

and twenty years on when i lost it at a bar

i thought

that’s fine


the thing about things is that they can start meaning things

nobody actually said

and if he couldn’t make something mean something for me

i had to make up what it meant

i can carry everything i need in one collapsing suitcase

i can carry everyone i love in one phone application

built to optimize the facetime of the ties i’m bent on making

actually i want to be alone

to mourn the loss

of what this cost

i collected you but now you are all lost

i think it’s a poem and i think it keeps going

cuz i’ve borrowed and lost lots of things

3 nights ago in the bar where i lost it a bartender gave me the ring

and i lie in bed

with my phone in my hand


what can i fix with this app

and i call my grandfather

and he doesn’t answer

and i have to make peace with that fact

because the thing about things

is that they can start meaning things nobody actually said

and if you’re not allowed to love people alive

then you learn how to love people dead

because the thing about things is that they can start meaning things nobody actually said

and if you’re not allowed

to love people alive

then you learn how to love people dead

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