Monday, December 26, 2016

Meditations on a Ceramic Pear

It sounds like the title of an essay by Sartre, poorly-translated from the French. Really it's just the right way to describe the poignant mix of sadness, nostalgia, and fear I feel whenever I return to my childhood bedroom--and this ceramic pear is like a physical embodiment of it. 

The room is a time capsule, not out of sentimentality on the part of the people who live here. To the contrary, it's my parents' disinterest in 42 years worth of detritus squatting in their apartment that has frozen this space in the condition I left it, when I left it forever, at age 17.

My parents' inertia enables an annual nostalgia trip though. The clay pear is one of many dated objects in here: the Cabbage Patch doll I coveted more than anything in my seven years of life; a three-ring binder from a high school English class, complete with notes and grades; a cactus that not just endures--but thrives--on continued neglect. I envy the cactus for its stoic self-sufficiency and protective shell, which is always the moment I reach over and pick up the pear. 

I turn the smooth glazed object over and over in my hand while zoning out on it. I can remember making it (or if not it specifically, maybe one of its clay produce brethren). How careful I was to render each fruit and vegetable as realistically as I could. How frustrated I was that my fourth grade hands wouldn't do the bidding of my artistic vision. How satisfied I was to see the colors of my sculptures transform from a dull matte paint to a shiny glaze, displayed on butcher paper alongside a hundred others, in the noisy hallway outside Ms. Tucci's art class.

And a certain nihilism sets in. 

What was the point of making this, I ask myself? What's the point of any of this shit? It will just become dust, quite literally, along with everything else in here. Along with my parents, along with me, along with this apartment, this building, this city, and everyone and everything I and every single one of us has ever known. 

But wait! 

First I must engage with it--and all the other things like it--in some sort of self-sabotaging perversion of Marie Kondo's "sparking joy" craze, the end result of which is the same amount of stuff and twice as much angst.

Which is when I tell myself it's not really about the pear. It never was. It's never about the thing it seems to be about. It's about the process that went into creating the pear, the simple memory it holds, the record of a moment and a feeling. Data, stored somewhere in each of our beleaguered mental hard drives, ready to be accessed on command.

We make stuff like this, in part, because we want things to last forever. We know a real pear can't last forever, so we try to make a simulacrum that will last longer. But what are we really trying to preserve? Moments, feelings, memories of people. None of which lasts longer than produce, not in the grand scheme of the universe, anyway.

That doesn't mean the pear serves no purpose, though. In fact, it serves a very distinct purpose: to remind me that time marches on whether I want it to or not. That it's unhealthy and futile to live my life in retrospect. That we all make choices. Choices which, for better or worse, we cannot unmake, and which mean that certain paths are foreclosed to us forever. 

And, most of all, that it is okay.

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