Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Hobby, addiction, necessity

We visited the Cambridge, WI pottery festival last weekend.  Lynn is a potter, a ceramicist and has made several hundred pieces.  Sometimes, they are thrown on the wheel and sometimes they are built by hand.  We have some shelves in our house that are pretty well covered with pieces she made.  

The 40 or so potters in the festival showed a wide variety of techniques and conceptions.  It is impressive how many ways people can think of to dry clay into useful or attractive shapes and objects.

We both realize that we don't have much more space to hold pottery around the house.  So, as I stood in front of some very well-made work, I found myself beginning to evaluate.  Which of these pieces might fit into a space we still have?  Given these attractive works, which might be most worth acquiring?  I realized in that moment that I didn't really care if any of those pieces were purchased or not.  I realized that I was developing a want right before my own eyes, one that I could get into but that I didn't need and would be better off without.  

Which, of course, brings to mind the opening words of my favorite book of the Bible: Ecclesiastes.  

Vanity of vanities, vanity of vanities, all is vanity.

The first few times I read those words, I didn't really know what they meant.  I had heard of a vanity, a piece of furniture featuring a table, a drawer, a large mirror and seating, built for the purpose of assisting mostly ladies apply make-up and cosmetics.  As I grew older, I learned that the word 'vanity' often meant a personal opinion that one is rather attractive.  People said that she is quite vain or he is vain about his hair or arm muscles.  

But the uses of the word in some tales clearly showed the word meant "futile" as in 'the guerrillas fought the king's army but their efforts were in vain."  Then, I realized the larger question: Are our lives in vain?  Are my works, my ideas, my achievements in vain?  Lynn sometimes asks who will know or care in 300 years?  It is clear that many important things done and celebrated at one time are now completely forgotten.  

A modern addition to the suspicion that one's life doesn't matter, or soon won't, is the concept of our living on a small ball circling a second or third rate star in a so-so galaxy.  We live a short time and then transform back into dust so what does it all matter?  

I didn't buy any pottery nor did Lynn but I do know that I have faced down haunting questions of this kind before.  I am willing and able to do it again.  A modern response employs recursion, turning the question back on itself.  If many or even all things are pointless eventually, so is the question, so is asking the question, so is worrying about what matters and what doesn't.

A sensory response employs one's senses, perception, awareness of self and the world: my feet are on the ground, my eyes can see and I am hungry.  300 years from now, it may not matter whether I get something to eat but it matters to me, it matters now and I am going to eat, and breathe, and bathe, and continue on enjoying the great opportunity to be alive and aware, to matter even for a short while to just a few others.

A personal response is simply: don't know but I don't care to wrestle with the question any more just now.

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