It’s Valentine’s Day – a time to reflect on what and who we love and to marvel at the inflated cost of the simplest of cards. What I and those around me value has always intrigued me, so, on this day annually, reflecting on this makes my “short list.” (Please relax. I have more sense than to comment on who people love. This is about “things.”)
A few semesters ago, at the first session of a writing workshop class, I asked students to introduce themselves by telling us of an item they cherish that’s in their dorm room. I thought this would give a succinct indication of interests and maybe even out-of-class activities.
Alas, this approach was a mini-disaster since several of the students “cherished” objects that were clearly in violation of university policy (fully equipped bar, poker chips, kitten – that sort of “thing”) or, almost as depressing, some memento of high school triumphs (a debate trophy, a faded corsage from the homecoming court).
Don’t ask me why, but I had dared to hope some would name as their cherished item a beloved novel, a book of poems, an award for some act of good citizenship. I had dared to hope that the students would be guided by William Morris’ famous line, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” Then, I realized that maybe what they had mentioned did, in fact, meet that standard. Woe is me.
I’ve not dared to use that introductory approach again, but I often take notice in my own home of what I cherish and in what ways these items are either useful or beautiful. I believe doing this occasionally is useful in clarifying values. Changes in the last few years have partly dictated the number of my possessions, if not the quality or the reason for my cherishing them.
Just try to wrap your mind around this: for nearly 20 years, I resided, along with one cat and two toy poodles, in a university residence on Oakmont–a mansion, my friend and colleague, John Greene, tells me comprises 6,691 square feet; in late 1999, out in the boonies I built what seems a spacious as well as comfortable metal roofed/limestone exterior home – it’s about 2,500 square feet.
I don’t have any sense of having reduced the number of “things” I loved although I am no longer able to provide utensils for serving a meal to all new members of Alpha Lambda Delta and their favorite professors. Granted, I have some cluttered closets but, mostly – readily at hand – is every single thing I need or want – and much that I, too, have to admit cherishing. (The number of four legged companions has grown from three to seven, but, who’s counting?)
Limiting myself to my study, the walls hold a “Bette Midler Gallery,” with portraits, concert posters, candid shots, a personal letter and even the necklace she wore in “For the Boys,” all tastefully framed. Useful? I don’t think so. Beautiful? Only in the eye of this beholder.
Maybe my version of Morris’ quote requires that cherished objects prompt memories because the shelves and desk surround me with photos of loved ones, urns containing ashes of remarkable cats and dogs, arks ranging from the ornate to the absurd, as well as a generously worded and beautiful calligraphed tribute from Trinity University women faculty.
Though none of these cherished objects violate rules or policies, I do find interesting what they reveal about my values; this designated date of celebrating love is a good prompt for considering what – as well as who – we really love. Try it.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Coleen Grissom is an english professor.