There’s a statistic I heard somewhere that women are attracted to shiny objects or was it that sharks are attracted to shiny objects, because they look like fish? I can’t remember, but that’s not the point. The point is that while that might be true for some, it’s definitely not true for me. I find that instead of being attracted to them, I run from them like they’re in the Cave of Wonders and if I touch them, everything will melt around me and the cave will snap shut trapping me inside. Maybe I have an overactive imagination. Aladdin references aside (personal note, that was my favorite childhood movie, and my first husband was Egyptian, coincidence?) I was never into anything very flashy. I seemed to always feel it’s impermanence and never wanted to get trapped, having to toil my days away in the cave (in the form of an office cubicle) just to stay with "my precious". Okay, now I’ve gone too far with the movie references and really jumped genres. I sincerely apologize.
I’m sure it drove my parents crazy and I know it drives my husband crazy, but you know that feeling people say they get when they get something brand new out of the box? The crispness of everything being so clean and fresh. Never been touched by another human (especially nowadays since machines make everything). I never got that feeling when looking at something shiny and new. Actually, kinda the opposite. I don't want to touch it. Not that it’s too good for me or anything, but that it isn’t real, it's depth is too shallow. The new box and cellophane wrapping is unimpressive in my opinion. I can see through its glitter and right to its heart, which it seems to have not. It’s never been loved. That newness wares off too quickly, and I would rather invest myself into something that already had depth and dings. I’m much more interested in the things that have history, a story, anything, other than that I just paid some money and got this thing. That seems so cold and impersonal. When I discovered this about myself, it finally made sense. I have little attachment to money, so buying expensive things doesn't drive me.
When I was a little girl, like most children, I believed all my stuffed animals and dolls had lives. I truly believed they were living, and at night, every single one of them had to go to bed with me or I feared they would feel left out and cold in the dark. Not only did they have to go to bed with me, they had to be under the covers so they wouldn’t get cold. Every night, on the right side of the bed where my husband now sleeps, there was a giant mound of stuffed toys and dolls under the covers. Bless little children and their imaginations. Each stuffed animal and doll had a back story, and they all just wanted to be loved. Perhaps I was playing make believe with some very real feelings I may have wrestled with? Who knows.
Nevertheless, looking back I realize two things about myself. The first is that I've literally spent my entire conscious life taking care of other beings (they don't call me little mama for nothing I guess) even if those other beings weren't necessarily "alive". The second thing I realize is that I have always connected more with things that seem to have history, stories, or previous lives before they "met" me.
There is one toy that I had while growing up that stood out to me as the only exception to this rule - in my childhood rationalization.
A doll named "baby feel so real".
That baby doll was my absolute favorite doll. It weighed 6 or 7 pounds, had a bone structure that you could feel through its body, even a soft spot on the top of the head. I loved this doll dearly.... until the day my cat chewed its hand off.
Traumatized at having walked into my bedroom and seen my beloved doll gushing this white goo from its hand, I screamed bloody murder and my parents came rushing in. They quickly took it to the “hospital” and found a way to mend the damage. They melted the plastic nub with a lighter. I mean hey, I was hysterical, so congrats on the quick thinking from my parents. But now not only was my doll an amputee but also had a blackened congealed stump at the end of its arm. I was devastated. That might have been the moment that marked the pivotal point in my life where I no longer wanted anything new.
Let me not paint the wrong picture of my childhood. I didn’t have any older siblings or cousins nearby that gave me hand me downs, and there was no Craigslist in those days. All my toys growing up were new (to my knowledge) but the thing is, I had never wanted anything new. I didn’t really know the difference, until that doll. I saw that doll in a commercial and wanted it so badly. Begged my mother for it. Finally got it, had it for some wonderful years, and then was devastated when it was marred.
I think at a young age, I unintentionally understood something that my mother always said to me. “This too shall pass, everything in life is temporary”. She said it all the time to get me through rough patches. Being the smallest kid on the block meant I was teased, a lot. When she said it, she meant that there were always better days to look forward to. I sometimes wonder if that phrase is the only thing thats gotten her through her own life.
But I took it even further. If everything is temporary, then what is the point? Starting from a really young age, probably around 12 or so, I contemplated this impermanence of life a lot. I remember asking other kids when we were playing “can you imagine, one day we’re just not going to be here. Everything will keep going, and we will just be gone.” Maybe that’s why I had few friends. I probably freaked out some very comfortable, very physically placed children. It freaked me out. And it’s still something I think about a lot.
The problem I’ve come to realize in my adult life is that while we are impermanent, our stuff these days is not. The child that resides in my heart still believes in the stories of the things she has, and now more than ever, wonders, what will happen to the stories of these things when she dies.
Enter My Love Affair With a Picker.
Mike Wolfe, American Picker and I have had a secret (albeit only in my head) relationship going on for years. It is his obsession with the stories of the things he finds that I love. I know very little about antiques. I know nothing about the values of old rusty junk, but every week I’m glued to the TV like I’m watching a superhero. In fact, I don’t even watch TV really, except for American Pickers.
I have stories for everything I own. And what I own is probably 99% second hand. Most of it found. While I could be called a “dumpster diver”, I’ve actually only gotten into a dumpster a handful of times in my life. More appropriately, I would prefer to be called a picker. Everything I’ve ever brought home has a story. If not the story of where it came from, then the story of where I found it and how I got it.
When living in the city, I always picked up clothes I saw on the side of the road. I would wash them and keep them in a bin in my car until I saw a homeless person and if they were asking for something, I gave it to them. I felt like I was helping put things in the right hands. I also did this with my leftovers, or any food I ever had on me. I've never had a lot of money, either being cashless in hand or cashless in general, but I always gave something. Once, at about 5:30 in the morning, I stopped at a gas station, a man by the door asked me for some money. I didn’t have any I could give him, but told him to hold on, ran to my car, grabbed a bag of raw almonds I had kept for emergency snacking and gave it to him. He looked at me like I was an idiot. But nevertheless he got something healthy, that would fuel him for a long time, so I felt great about it. Whether he traded it for drugs, who knows. But I prefer to think that I helped keep him going by giving him good food.
The things I found may not be worth much in cash, but they are worth something in value. We seem to only care about the cash value of things these days and nothing else. But what is the value of a coat to a cold child, a warm towel to a homeless dog? These are things that cannot be measured in terms of money, and while I may be one of the few, I see their value.
I peddle your junk. I take your discards and put it in the hands of those who need it. Leftover bits of shampoo? I’m your girl. Torn sweaters? Bingo(!), bring it right over here. Scraps of wood? Give me some of that! There is always someone who will find these things useful, or someone who will take them and reinvent them into something useful or beautiful. Finding those people and making those connections is my specialty.
This is the end of part one. I've got a ton more to write including Why My Husband Hates Me (or maybe it's my junk), Maroon Velvet Dumpster Curtains, California Diving- The Best Around, Dodging Traffic for Baby Clothes, and so many more. Most of those stories come with hilarity and ridiculousness in tow so stay tuned!