Tuesday, November 10, 2009

some randomness...

...but maybe not so random.

I admit I have been watching Mad Men lately and that may have been a jumping-off point for my brain on this. But more so I was thinking about the little notes scrawled in old books, who they meant something to. And I remembered how it was so utterly sad to me being in my mom's house after she died and seeing little notes she had jotted down to herself, lists of tasks that would go undone, people she would never call, etc.

At any rate, I woke up the other day and started spewing this. Enjoy:

The sadness of junk. It is in the lost hopes and dreams in the things we sell or give away or leave behind. This is perhaps a newish phenomenon, one birthed of the unholy post-war marriage of unprecedented wealth and unprecedented free time, combined with the ascendancy of advertising and consumer culture. But it’s a place in history to which we can point and say, ‘Here.’ Here is a moment where the record skipped, where things went off-track, where our promise and potential got stripped, hijacked, and sold off piece by piece.

The moment where we began to transition from mostly rural to the weird netherworld of suburban is also the place where things, objects began to be invested with something other than their intrinsic, utilitarian value.

It’s actually hard to imagine a world in which things might be just things--useful, nothing more. A world in which the fetishization of objects isn’t ubiquitous. But I suspect that that was the world before I was born, before the post-war boom. If you bought a new car or a new stove or a new tie, you did so because the old one no longer worked properly or was worn out. Simple. Not because you secretly held a hidden emptiness inside and suspected--albeit on a subconscious level--that owning this new thing would fulfill it.

What seems to have happened after the post-war boom had been rolling merrily along for a decade or so, is people began wondering: where is MY happiness? Why, if we have won, if we have so much, if we are able to do and have and be anything we want, why am I still not happy? Or even satisfied for any length of time? There must be more.

And the flip side of that, the place where the sadness of objects comes from is the lie we told ourselves when we bought that thing, the one thing that was going to make us happy. The new car, the new refrigerator, the new outfit--walking out of the store, everything was golden, we could see a perfectible if not a perfect world, one in which everything could be ours and we could be happy. A world where the hole inside was filled.

The sadness of junk in pawn shops and especially older stuff--estate sales, objects in the homes of grandparents who have died, scrawled notes in the flyleaf of a yellowing book--is in seeing these things as they were once seen when they were new. These things that would once save us from the gaping maw of loneliness inside, now tossed away, scorned with rueful little smiles: how could I have ever liked that?

There is a giant crack in humanity. We have pretended for decades to have the ability to fill it with things, with work, with noise, but it only grows more petulant and demanding.

The other day, an assault of news stories: here is a man who hanged his girlfriend’s kitten and videotaped himself tormenting the animal in an act of revenge against her.

Here, a story on abusive practices at Vermont feed-lots--workers tormenting animals deliberately, a shot of a calf with its front hooves cut off left to squirm and suffer in the muck, a forklift driven through living cattle to move them while workers laugh.

Here, a Colorado fourteen-year-old suspected of murdering his parents.

Now, here is a story on a crack in Africa that may someday be a new ocean, as the continental shelves slowly pull apart.

But that ocean will take millions of years to form. The gulf that is much more urgent and immediately dangerous to our species is the one inside us. One begins to suspect that the fetishization of objects--which is the very medium in which we live our daily lives--has a darker side: the concurrent objectification of living things around us, including other people.

The crack begins to spread and the lies shine through.

The sadness of junk, of things discarded is that it is in these things that we have invested our humanity.

And now we find it too is as worn-out as the sad, dusty objects we once loved.

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