Remember that blog that was going around a couple months ago? Something about Things Saved From a Fire? In the posts, people would arrange the things that were most important to them (i.e., what they would save from a fire).
I remember my brother remarking that he was disappointed to see how many replaceable items people had brought together.
I remember thinking that it was because the post had become not about what was irreplaceable, but instead became about what was essential to a person. The fire scenario became less about salvaging what was irreplaceable, and became more about what you would carry into your future after literally losing everything else in your life. And what I loved about that evolution was the buildup of what I love about materialism.
What you love about materialism? you say.
Indeed. I have a wallpaper in my screensaver slideshow that has a sketch of Tyler Durden that reminds you that you are not your wallpaper. The same way that he rallied in the book and movie, Fight Club, that we are not our possessions. We do not define ourselves by Ikea catalogues, the way Tyler defined himself at the beginning of the story.
And yet, I have four hundred photographs in this slideshow, many that are mine, most that aren’t, and I find that I do define myself by those photos. Those are my passions and my interests and the things that I find beauty within. And they are an illustration of me.
Yes, I went through college studying Buddhism, Mysticism, and Eastern Religions. I’m as familiar as most people toward the assertions that there’s a different between the self and the soul/core/center/being, which is selfless and a part of the whole.
But this knowledge (and inspiration) is at odds to my searing independent streak. Since a child I’ve grown up by defining myself in terms of my passions.
In the photograph below, I lay out my laptop computer and external hard-drive, which contain all my photographs from my time growing up, of family and friends, some of whom seem (or are) long gone. They contain my writing projects, old and new, all the articles I’ve ever written, as well as essays written both for school and publication. They also contain my photography, which is my recent passion and the career I’m trying to build. Though the computer itself is replaceable (and has been, many times now), these are the irreplaceable things. The photos, the artwork, the writing.
I’ve included my Canon T3i with the 50mm 1.8 and the Sigma 10-20mm 4-5.6. Not the most amazing of equipment, but there’s a large range to operate within, even with mid-grade equipment, in learning how to manipulate the lighting and the subjects and how to take a perfect photo. These are things that are replaceable and, given the nature of the future investments I hope (and will need) to make, these are still easily replaceable. But they’re symbols of starting somewhere. They’re the symbols of the steady friends I’ll hold fast to in the next year, as I climb.
The books are even easier replaced. No more than forty dollars between the three of them. One is House of Leaves. The other is The Road. And the third is my first novel, Hallowtide. The book itself is replaceable. It’s not a first proof — not even from the first printed set. It’s just a slightly beaten version that I toss in my bag to show people. But these three books are read and worn and define me. And, though there are many more that I’ve yet to read, and many still that I feel define me, these are the friends I’ve made, that, if I had nothing else, I would turn to.
A tattered deck of Tarot cards sits atop them. Because it felt right.
And a watch. A watch I bought on a whim a month ago that I like very much. No special sentiment. Easily replaced. But there was something significant about snagging it. Perhaps because I grab for it before leaving every time I go out. Maybe there’s something symbolic there about reaching for a reminder of time passing every time I leave. Or maybe I just like wearing watches.
Can’t tell you why I decided to write this tonight, arrange a few special items and take a photo. Maybe it’s because I’m working to move into a new apartment this January, one with a high risk of fire damage. Maybe change and loss is on my mind. Maybe I’m still struggling to get over materialism and live on little. Where my essence should be no more than bread and water and other people’s happiness.
Maybe I’m a bit satisfied that my pile isn’t bigger. Could, in fact, be smaller. Maybe that makes me feel older and wiser, especially with as poorly as I’ve been or expect to be living soon. It’s good to operate with less.
But right now, I’m still ruled by my passions and dreams. Maybe I both like and am terrified that I can define myself with three books, a laptop, and a camera. Escapism and creation. Passing time. Maybe I just wanted to reflect on what was important to me.