Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Furniture and Books
A kind woman gave us a piece of furniture. A heavy piece of furniture.
It was a surprise. My mother in law dropped in during the weekend with the family's pickup truck and asked me if I had time to help her move something. We drove north of town, down a dirt road, and through a gate into the home of someone with whom she goes to church. Minutes later, I was struggling with one of the heaviest things I've ever moved without equipment. My mother in law kept referring to it as a "secretary."
It is "well-made," as we say, a euphemism for: "this thing is solid, extremely heavy, and you're going to have to lift it to avoid ruining your wooden floor. If it falls on you, you might die."
It is the kind of thing you install in your home knowing you're going to be in that home a good ten, twenty years, and aren't planning to move anytime soon. It is a weight holding you to the house.
Nathan had an excellent post recently in which he quoted Suzuki roshi saying, "We should not have anything that is not necessary." Nathan then reflected on consumerism and accumulation.
As much as I appreciate a well made cabinet, armoire, desk, or piano -- especially older pieces built well in order to last -- it is one thing to admire the workmanship and another to own the thing. In a way, I understand the impulse to give it away to a younger couple, to lighten ones own load.
My thing is books. They have a hold on me. I cherish them. I have not amassed a huge collection -- nothing approaching, say, my father's collection of tens of thousands of books. He actually had to build a separate building, extending a four-car garage on his property, in order to accommodate them. No, I don't feel a need to collect or hoard them, but the ones I've kept, I want around. I like to see them on bookshelves. I like smelling them, touching them. I refer to books I've read before, and there are a few I haven't gotten around to just yet. There are novels, poems, plays, essays, political books, books on education, books on sociology, books on buddhadharma and sutras, and more. They are my entertainment and their presence is a comfort; and they are mulch for my own creative activities.
Last month I wrote about my connection with books and personal libraries here.
Even so, the books -- as a collection -- also bear a similar weight. Every time I have moved, the most onerous part of the process was moving the books. Many heavy boxes of them. Years of tangible accumulated karma on my back. When we moved our family from Los Angeles to Deming in 2008, the bulk of the moving truck was occupied with books. There was very little furniture.
So the "secretary" had to go somewhere. (Just like human secretaries.) And my wife moved a bookshelf and then she didn't like that arrangement so she moved one of the bookshelves into the dining room and stacked some spillover books on the floor and jammed a few randomly within the stacks or on top of them and when I came home my heart sank.
The dynamics of marriage arise from innocent incompatibilities. My wife is not comfortable in the presence of bookshelves loaded with books. It is inexplicable to me, just as my affection for books is inexplicable to her. What to do with the books, then? My wife has tried various aesthetic solutions, treating the books as decorative pieces. A book I might be looking for on any given day could be in the sun room, or on a shelf overlooking the piano (a small stack arranged for size and attractiveness), or in the dining room. The books were once grouped together by category, at least, but with children yanking books from shelves for fun, and with bursts of hurried tidying, there really is no system. She has tried to accommodate the books into an aesthetic scheme that works for her; but for me these aren't glass eggs, they are books. I would almost rather have them in boxes in the garage, with the boxes labeled so I can find what I need when I'm looking for something, and just yield the space to Sarah.
There is a firepit. I could just burn them. Or donate them to the library -- less dramatic, but more useful. And I would be none the worse for it, really; but I'd weep for years. So the middle way might be storage: the garage's correct function.
And now there is this "secretary" in the office, standing there with nothing to do yet. Just like a human secretary.
And Sarah just told me she wants it in another room.