I give the name of Accidental Talismans to possessions that lurk in the home and drag down the inhabitants. A talisman is supposed to be a magical object imbued with intention and purpose that propels the magician towards a desired future. Things I call Accidental Talismans don’t take any kind of magical skill to make, everyone has junk that for whatever reason, we just don’t want to deal with. But those boxes in the garage with forgotten contents, ugly curios, and old clothes take on a life of their own. Unfortunately their purpose is not to propel towards the future, but to trap the owner in the past. I always think I’ve successfully gotten rid of all my Accidental Talismans but I discovered I had more to learn.
I’m fortunate to have an occupation that offers me a considerable amount of vacation time. So after my son’s Spring Break had finished, I still had quite a bit of time left in my vacation. It being Spring and all, I was inspired to do some deep cleaning of my house. I was in my own bedroom, armed with a Swifter and clearing out the cobwebs in the ceiling corners when an expressly prominent Accidental Talisman growled at me. My bookshelf was particularly disgruntled.
I am an avid reader. My new rule is that if I can find the book at the library, then I don’t bring it permanently into my home. I would not have enough room in any house to house all of the books I read. That said, some of the topics I research are not books stocked in the Chicago Public Library. At one point, I decided that I wanted to make space in my own bedroom for my favorite books. I also wanted the top shelf just under the window to be a place for special objects. So years ago, I went to the nearest Target and put together a small bookshelf.
Now I’m not against convenience, obviously, but that bookshelf kit I bought wasn’t exactly built to last. Target gives their furniture kits very small warranties for good reason. Several years ago, that book shelf broke. The corner pin pulled out and had cracked the top particle board. However, instead of replacing it…I…um….well, I used some leopard print duct tape to hold it together.
That leopard print duct tape was simply awful.
With taxes filed, bills paid, and vacation pre-paid and over, I thought to myself, I could easily replace that bookshelf with a new kit from Target. But the truth was, I could have done that when it had broken in the first place. Why had I kept it?
I took the query of broken things to social media. Only four of my personal friends were brave enough to respond to the question. Three said that they kept broken things in order to repair them. Although two of those three brave souls admitted to me that they never did get repaired, and sat in variously locations around their homes, much like my growling bookshelf. When I bombarded the third person with questions like “How long does it usually take you to repair things?” and “Where do you keep the broken things while they are waiting to be repaired?” She didn’t respond…I have a sneaking suspicion that like the other two, those broken things she has have been sitting in her space broken…possibly for years.
So if we are really not repairing these things, the question still remains – Why do we keep broken things?
My most favorite books, and objects that were quite literally sacred to me were perched precariously on a sad little bookshelf being held together with duct tape. My room looked pretty fresh after I had swiped away the cobwebs, but it just made that bookshelf even more…loud.
“Look at me!” It screamed.
That was startling, even though I’m well aware Accidental Talismans take on a very disconcerting sentient quality. The bookshelf was growling and screaming at me; talk about creepy! But…if my own friends and all of Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr couldn’t tell me why people keep broken things…maybe that very loud bookshelf would.
I believe that all of our things are reflections of ourselves. That’s why I’m so adamant about getting rid of Accidental Talismans. If possessions are reflections of ourselves then I want that reflection to be accurate and affirming, not some freakishly skewed funhouse version of a reflection. I had to know what my broken bookshelf was reflecting about me. The truth was more complex than I imagined. That bookshelf had a lot to say.
Perception of Value“You want me to be valuable!” it shrieked.
I was shocked. I paid good money for that bookshelf and it fell apart! Well, I paid money for it. But I did not pay a lot of money for it. I did after all buy it from Target. Target, though, is a lovely, helpful establishment that offers a lot of different types of merchandise in one convenient location.
“Target,” countered the bookshelf, “Is not exclusively a furniture store.”
I really couldn’t argue with that. Target only warranties its merchandise for a limited time because their bookshelf kits are not meant to be generational family heirlooms. Target would probably argue, and rightly so, that their bookshelf performed up to its expected warranty. And I wasn’t exactly careful with the thing (the bookshelf told me that it would come back to that in a moment), so Target certainly had nothing to do with the breakage.
But value isn’t necessarily monetary. Not only did I spend my money on that bookshelf, by the Gods! I had spent my exceptionally valuable time building the thing! Yes, indeed I had spent my limited time putting together a bookshelf. I made the decision to buy a bookshelf kit from Target because when I decided I wanted that bookshelf, I wanted it NOW. I did not want to “waste” (my oh so valuable time) visiting multiple furniture stores where they build very lasting, stable bookshelves and have them delivered by careful, professional furniture movers. That takes weeks, and sometimes months – I didn’t have time for that! At Target, I had my bookshelf at the now.
“So tell me why that green fairy dress of yours is this closet, and not the costume closet in your basement,” said the bookshelf.
Yes, for the record, I have a costume closet. But the green fairy dress was (is), as the bookshelf had stated, not in it. That's because I wear it so often, it just is too much trouble to retrieve it from the basement every time I time I want to wear it. My broken bookshelf reminded me that my when I bought it, my then husband was openly horrified at the money I had spent on that dress. I believe that it was about $130.00 dollars in 2005. Which seemed a lot of money for one dress he thought I wasn’t going to wear that often.
Well, it’s now 2017, and the dress outlasted the husband. As I said, I wear that dress all the time. It has a train that been drug through Arizona desert dirt, and Illinois summer mud; and yet it still looks as good as the day I bought it. Google me and you will probably find several pictures of me floating about the internet wearing that green dress. Because I have been photographed by literally hundreds of random strangers at faires and festivals I attend for my own amusement. I’ve had that dress for 12 years, so for each year I’ve had it, it cost only $10.83, for the year. If I calculated the cost by each wear, it would probably be pennies. And it still looks great. I’ll be wearing it for years to come.
The green fairy dress was value, the bookshelf was not. I just wanted to believe that it was value because I spent a couple hours struggling to put it together myself. But the truth about that bookshelf is that I didn’t want value, no I wanted instant gratification; and whether I want to believe it or not, those two concepts are simply not the same thing.
Sentimental Reasons“You’re so sentimental,” the bookshelf said. “And I’m done with it.”
I was confused at first by this. I remembered that I had kept a broken toy that had belonged to my son. We had an Au Pair from Thailand who had given him this cool windup toy. It wasn’t very expensive, but I wanted to fix it so badly because it reminded me of her. It really was beyond my capabilities to fix, but I kept it for a long while hoping that I could, for the sentimental value of the thing.
I speak a lot about sentiment in conjunction with Accidental Talismans. People often recognize that a thing has sentiment (sentimental value) but it’s harder to articulate what that sentiment actually is. Just because something has sentimental value, doesn’t necessarily mean that the sentiment is positive. According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, a definition of “sentiment,” is “an attitude, thought, or judgment prompted by feeling (emphasis is mine).”
Surely this bookshelf from Target didn’t have sentimental value! Or did it?
The bookshelf then proceeded to remind me of how the pin was pulled, that cracked the shelf, which led to the duct tape. My son was in my room, he’s always in my room, and actually, I feel pretty lucky that he still wants to hang out with me. I don’t remember the precise circumstances, but I do remember that my son was trying to be helpful when he grabbed hold of the side of the bookshelf and pulled it in order to move it slightly. I yelled at him to stop, because, of course, the bookshelf broke. And my son cried, because it had broken and then I yelled at him some more, because he had broken it. And I felt awful. Because apparently, I had cared more about that bookshelf from Target, than I had about him.
When my son was a little smaller (as he was when the bookshelf broke, as a matter of fact) when he had a scrape, I would bandage it with a leopard print bandage. Mommy’s kiss would start the healing process and the next day, I’d find the bandage somewhere in the house, or on some stuffed animal who had had an accident too. Children’s physical scrapes heal pretty quickly. Bookshelves however, do not eventually grow new particle board. It wasn’t the pulled pin I was trying to heal when I taped up the bookshelf with that leopard print duct tape, it was that I had yelled at my son. I know very well that yelling at a child causes far more scarring than the worst physical scrape.
I had kept the bookshelf for many sentimental reasons. It was to remind me of the day I thought my books were more important than my son, and of the bad attitude I had. I passed a judgement on myself for my error. The bookshelf was a reflection of that.
“I don’t have time, for that!”That eyesore of a bookshelf had been growling and grumbling in my bedroom for a very long time…years…I think (I don’t know and more to the point – I don’t want to know). As I stood there, having this surreal conversation with the sentient Accidental Talisman armed with my swifter, I tried to argue that I finally had the time to clean like this due to my vacation and my son’s school schedule.
I had left the bookshelf alone because I had never had the time to attend to it before! I worked! So much! On weekends! At night! (I think I was still on the midnight shift when the bookshelf had originally broken – but I’m not sure) I still had to cook dinner and make sure the dishes were washed and the laundry was put away! I had to actually sleep and eat from time to time too! When? When! Did I have time to go to Target again and time to put together a new bookshelf! I didn’t! I didn’t!
The bookshelf sighed. “No one ever has time,” it said. “Time is an immensity. How arrogant you are to assume that you can ever have it. Time is so much bigger, older, and wiser than you will ever be. You cannot have Time – you can only offer it an invitation.”
I had never wanted to make the time to replace the bookshelf. I just couldn’t be bothered.
There had been a fourth friend who had responded do my Social Media query, “Why do we keep broken things?”
He had responded: Because we are broken.
“So you’re saying I’m a miser, a bad mother and that I’m lazy,” I said to the bookshelf with resign.
“No,” answered the bookshelf. “I don’t think that. I’m just a bookshelf. But you do. I am only a reflection of you.”
“I don’t think I like this reflection,” I said.
“My reality is,” said the bookshelf, “I died a long time ago, but you could not let me go.”
My sad little bookshelf, even though it had not had a long life, had in fact served its purpose. I was pushing it further than it could go. It had reached its limitations. I had to acknowledge my own limitations - it was beyond my capabilities to properly fix it. Well, to be fully honest, this bookshelf was broken, and could not be fixed.
So I returned the swifter to its proper place. I got into the car and drove to Target and I bought a bookshelf (this one has metal supports and thus, a longer warranty – I wasn’t exactly looking for generational quality). Then, I offered Time an invitation, and the new bookshelf was built. So then Time and I went to the old bookshelf and began to remove the books. When the last book was out, the bookshelf simply collapsed even as I was still holding the last volume in my hand.
I think it was grateful.