About a year after my father passed away, I found myself needing to “clean out” his belongings. I sorted through all the bits and pieces and found that I had a difficult time managing the detritus of his life.
I had helped my father clean out his Arizona home when he was diagnosed with cancer in 2008. I had helped him move his most precious things to my home in 2010. I knew that all of the objects that remained after his passing meant a lot to him…I just didn’t know why.
Most of the things were interesting but had no meaning for me. Coins, small slips of paper, cufflinks, pins, and watch after watch after watch. As I sorted, I began to suspect that my father had been obsessed with time.
All throughout my life, my mother has often apologized for the “double whammy” of hoarder genetics: 50% from her and 50% from my father. The 100% packrat in me sat sorting and crying. I am just a person who feels nostalgic knowing things had meant something to someone else.
The things. I love things. I regularly get attached, emotional, and protective of things. Not because things are valuable. Not because things have significance. No, I become attached to things merely because in my imagination they could be important, could be valuable, or could be significant to someone…even if they mean nothing to me.
I am constantly guarding another man’s treasure.
Regularly I wonder why the heck I can’t listen to the voices inside my head giving orders:
Throw it all away…
Box it and store it in the garage until you have time to deal with it all later…
In the case of my dad’s things no voice shouted loudest. The things didn’t have inherent monetary value. Calling it all garbage seemed, on the one hand, rude, and on the other, environmentally irresponsible.
This man was integral to my life, but I knew better than to box up his stuff and refuse to face the problem. That was his M.O., and I’d been defying his denial since I could remember. So what could I do?
I couldn’t sell these things, or trash them, or keep them. The things had no stories, no importance for me except that I knew the things were a part of my dad’s life. Inherently meaningful things, but death had misplaced their meaning. In some cases the things were beautiful, and yet, to me, they were simply a mournful collection of incoherence.
A Mournful Collection of Incoherence.
An idea galvanized me out of my melancholy.
I realized I knew a guy. A guy who specializes in incoherent collections. A guy who could take all the objects, treat them with reverence and give them coherence. An assemblage artist. A man who, like me, loves things.
I called Dan.
Would you do this? I practically begged. Will you take away all of these cool things, and plain things, and everyday things, and odd things, and make them into Art?
My attempts to do anything foundered. I was unable to act because of my belief that it was shameful to hang on to a bunch of things that weren’t valuable and had no meaningful stories.
However, it would be glorious and honorable to display all the same things as a piece of art in my home.
Send it all away with an artist, to sort it and digest it and then create with it. Give it new meaning. Translate the random assortment into a coherent assemblage. Find the beauty, the balance, the value. Memorialize my father through his own preserved collection of things in a piece of art.
This idea solved a huge problem for me. I would not keep a box in the garage, and every once in awhile go through it and have a good cry. I would have art on my wall for all to see, appreciate, and wonder about. It was an amazing way to both let go and keep all those things.
Dan said yes. And look what he made for me:
It is a literal door that opens anytime I want to remember my dad. I can consider his odd, fleeting hobbies. Items he treasured. Objects he wore on his body. His greatest achievements in work and as a father are represented if you know what to look for. As are all the ways he cut, and separated, and sliced up his life into manageable chunks.
While I considered all the pieces I would give Dan to alchemize into art, I found myself thinking about the clocks, the watches, the timepieces. There’s an Australian Aboriginal mythology that became popular in the 80s, about the place we are born and the stories we learn in this life being our “Dreamtime.”
Each life, each incarnation, is different and the songs and dreams change with each lifetime. For me, Dan’s beautiful art, made from a bunch of mere things, represents my father’s life beautifully. Dad’s Dreamtime. Dad’s Time.
If you have a similar collection of things, consider making them into art. Things that are precious because they belonged to someone you love. Things that you need to let go of and also hang on to forever. I cannot recommend Dan highly enough. http://www.danlevin.com/