Object Lessons

Posted on July 3, 2011

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When the internet was being born in the early 90s, I was busy getting educated.

I carried books and papers weighted with the knowledge I hoped to gain.

Those books and papers traveled with me through multiple moves and multiple states.

Every year, more books added weight and more papers were written.  Draft after draft was kept and stored and labeled.

Through graduate school, I kept feedback on stories and critiques by my writing professors.  I kept drafts of half-fermented ideas and scraps of thoughts written hastily on ripped papers from slightly used notebooks.

I also brought along a Brother word processor that I used to type up most of my stories and most of my ideas.

Kokkiree has called me a pack rat.

Perhaps, but these things that surround me hold meaning and significance.  These things hold value as tangible reminders of an existence.

Objects connect us to our history.

The books I kept were so I could not only remember what I had read, but show others how much I had read.  They became symbols of status of learning gained.

It is the same reason one might hang a diploma on a wall above a desk.  It signifies that your life has had direction and purpose.

Yet, books were there for the power to remind me of things I had learned.  I held on to them because without them, there exists only my mind to recall things.  Yet, the mind needs triggers, and since we are multi-sensory individuals we need to use multiple senses to recall with stronger convictions.

Sven Birkerts, a writer and cultural critic, once wrote a book that spoke volumes to my sensibilities as a teacher.  The Gutenberg Elegies was a wake-up call to understanding how language and intellect was slowly eroding in modern culture because of the proliferation of digitized media.

1. Language erosion. There is no question but that the transition from the culture of the book to the culture of electronic communication will radically alter the ways in which we use language on every societal level. The complexity and distinctiveness of spoken and written expression, which are deeply bound to traditions of print literacy, will gradually be replaced by a more telegraphic sort of “plainspeak.” Syntactic masonry is already a dying art. Neil Postman and others have already suggested what losses have been incurred by the advent of telegraphy and television; how the complex discourse patterns of the nineteenth century were flattened by the requirements of communication over distances. That tendency runs riot as the layers of mediation thicken. Simple linguistic prefab is now the norm, while ambiguity, paradox, irony, subtlety, and wit are fast disappearing. In their place, the simple “vision thing” and myriad other “things.” Verbal intelligence, which has long been viewed as suspect as the act of reading, will come to seem positively conspiratorial. The greater part of any articulate person’s energy will be deployed in dumbing-down her discourse.

Language will grow increasingly impoverished through a series of vicious cycles. For, of course, the usages of literature and scholarship are connected in fundamental ways to the general speech of the tribe. We can expect that curricula will be further streamlined, and difficult texts in the humanities will be pruned and glossed. One need only compare a college textbook from twenty years ago to its contemporary version. A poem by Milton, a play by Shakespeare; one can hardly find the text among the explanatory notes nowadays. Fewer and fewer people will be able to contend with the so-called masterworks of literature or ideas. Joyce, Woolf, Soyinka, not to mention the masters who preceded them, will go unread, and the civilizing energies of their prose will circulate aimlessly between closed covers.  (read more)

His argument beyond this was that students couldn’t read with the same depth anymore because they didn’t have anything tangible to hold.  The page of a book has depth and weight and gives students an ability to remember and process information better.  When the computer screen turns off, there is nothing there to remind us of what we’ve read.  We have nothing to hold.

Holding on is clearly what I had done.

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There are boxes of childhood in my house.

Tubs of sports collecting cards, tubs of Robotech toys, boxes of stamps and coins, and boxes of Star Wars action figures.

There even exists a box of rocks in my parents’ house.

They are heavy.

I began collecting these things as a child.

Year by year, allowance by allowance, objects upon objects.

This is a poor man’s gallery; a poor man’s art.

We go to museums to see the history of our world.  We stare at objects behind glass.  We stare at paintings.  We stare at antiques.  These objects are preserved for posterity.

By their very nature, they hold value.

The objects of my past are the same.

They hold value, but not the kind that would fetch millions in the auction houses of Christie’s, and not the kind that would make the curators of the Smithsonian thank my trust.

They are merely tokens of a childhood that I wish to pass on.

Yet, will The Girl thank me for these things or will she merely keep it all in boxes and wonder, like I am now, why it is she holds on to these things?

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As we move forward in life, new memories are created.

This move to California is making me reassess what’s important to remember and what’s important to let go.

Every time we visit Kokkiree’s sister in Minnesota, we take time to play with magical faerie cards.  I don’t really believe these things do much of anything.  They are like fortune tellers giving you generic prophecies about something big is happening in your life and you merely apply whatever is on your mind to their prediction.

Yet, without fail, every time we play with these faerie cards, the same ones continue to come up.  And for me, “letting go” has popped up enough times to be a signal that I was holding on to something that I no longer needed.

And so, away things have gone.  Boxes and boxes of objects rediscovered in my house.  Boxes and boxes of old papers have been recycled.  Boxes and boxes of books and knowledge passed on to others.  Boxes and boxes of old clothes that signified a past event have been donated to those who need clothing and shelter.

I hold on to the childhood toys and cards because, maybe, someone else someday will hold on to them.  Someone else will open the box and wonder what each card and each toy represents.  They will sit in a quiet room, surrounded by these objects, and learn the lessons I learned about the past and remember a time when they too held onto things as a reminder of a past slipping away.

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