I know someone who is a master of misery. Her conversations often circle back to the topics of places she used to live in or people who either through death, desertion or just the vicissitudes of life are no longer around. Whenever she speaks about any of these she gets teary-eyed, sighs a lot, and visibly sags before your eyes, weighed down as she is by this burden of absence.
She also has, and hangs onto, a massive collection of “stuff”. There are rooms in her home whose original purpose have been voided due to the amount of things piled in them. Her collections include: Thimbles, ceramic pigs, multi-colored ribbon, old medicine bottles, cigar boxes, small Pot Belly figurines, books books and books, vinyl records, crocheted doilies, handmade quilts, and more… much more!
I have come to see that these two aspects of her life… the collections and her nostalgic yearnings… are actually two aspects of the same thing: Her desire to avoid the present. Through the nostalgia she romanticizes places and people no longer in the present; through her collections she ensures herself a physical presence in this world once she has died, her own modern-day pyramid.
All of this is a shame because she is a sweet person. And yet, in her presence one can feel almost invisible, not actually present for her to focus upon. As a result, many take detours when they see her coming. For those who feel badly for her the time taken to talk with her can feel like a wasted investment.
Why do we persist in being miserable, in living in a way that furthers our misery? Where is the line over which a collection becomes hoarding? I have often wondered if she is addicted to feeling bad. I have also wondered if her collections form an alternative world for her, an alternate to reality. The lesson that her life has taught me is that we ignore reality at our own peril, even if that peril… in some strange way… comforts us.