I started reading Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes yesterday at the coffee shop, knowing the minute I finished my coffee, I had to come home and work. So I stayed there a long time. I would read a paragraph and then look up. I gazed out the window for what felt like vast stretches.
The phrase that leaped at me in those few pages was "my life of handled things". In biographies we put so much emphasis on relationships with place and other people. I loved the idea of telling a life story based on handled things. And I couldn't help but think what the salient objects I would include would be.
Favourite mugs, books, jewelry and Ted... these go almost without saying. The switch on my Jielde lamp... there's untold joy there. The magnet closure of my favourite purse. The button on the 1930's elevator in my building. The advance lever on my k1000. The felted wool inside my favourite mitts. The pump on my favourite skincare products. That one knot on my oak floors that I stick my toe into when I'm talking idly on the phone... No biography would ever include these things.
The book's epigraph is this quote from Proust's Cities of the Plain: "Even when one if no longer attached to things, it's still something to have been attached to them; because it was always for reasons which other people didn't grasp..."
Many years ago, BFF told me about this artwork: Object Carried for One Year by Kelly Mark. From her site:
"Wherever she went, Mark carried a small aluminum bar in the back pocket of her jeans for a year. Because of the softness of the metal, it registered the year's worth of bumps and abrasions that accompanied her daily routines. At the same time that the bar registered these traces of the artist's physical existence, it became a kind of fetish object, a thing that she was compelled to observe and handle on a constant basis. At the end of the year the bar was engraved, like a trophy, with the artist's name and the title and date of the work."
But our lives are filled with handled things that are never engraved and put in a glass case. They remain with us, even if we are no longer attached to us. That narrative... our live with those handled things... most often goes completely unexpressed. The new owners may wonder, but they'll never know. Even if we were there to tell them, they couldn't.
I think of favourite clothes as belonging to this category too. I hate new clothes. I detest wearing something for the very first time. I always feel bashful when people notice it. I relax around things when I break them, when they start to take on that patina and form themselves to me. And so it's funny, in a way, that I do this post every week with all its new and shiny objects. Really, my Sunday bests are about wearing those things three months in. When they're no longer shoes and sweaters, pants and purses, but just other things in my life of handled things.
Products: Mountain silk scarf from Fieldguided | Vince fine-knit linen top from Net-a-Porter | Mother The Teaser jeans from Net-a-Porter | Rose Noir by Byredo | Cathy Waterman Black Diamond Double Leaf Ring from Twist | Dieppa Restrepo Oxford from La Garconne | DD Tote from ELA