Some people love painting their houses. They finish redecorating and promptly start planning a new colour scheme for next year. Nothing is ever allowed to peel or get dingy and flaky. But I hate painting. Probably because it takes me ages to do, and I manage to get paint everywhere, including the taps in the bathroom. No matter how carefully I prepare and clean the area, the fresh paint is quickly teeming with fluff, dirt and lumps – and when I paint outdoors, there are always greenflies and tiny spiders wriggling in it, which makes me feel bad.
I hate the paint itself, and the vicious fluid that cleans the paintbrushes. Mum said I could wash the brushes with water – but it didn’t turn out like that. It washed off, then stuck back on. So we had to fetch the vicious stuff from the shed to sort it out.
I said “I’m the worst painter in the family.”
“That’s not possible,” said Mum. “Your father was the worst painter in the family.”
Maybe so – but he’s not alive any more, so that puts me in pride of place. It makes me feel a little better – I can blame my painting failures on him!
Later, I was flicking quickly through a small book on decluttering that Mum left lying around. (I can’t give title or author at the moment, as it’s still at her house). It said “you can’t take it with you”, then elaborated. It said that we never own things outright, even if we think we do. We don’t even own our own bodies – they are on temporary loan from the universe. And if something we possess gets lost or damaged, we might think it’s a terrible calamity, but in fact it’s not going to spoil our lives – generally we can live without ‘it’, whatever ‘it’ was.
I discussed this with Mum. I was no stranger to the idea that we own nothing. The houses themselves are not ours – we live in them for a while and then we move out, and other people move in. Antiques and collectables are not ours – we simply look after them for a while, then pass them on. I’ve known this since I was a teenager. It doesn’t stop me feeling possessive about things that I think are ‘mine’. My house. My cats. My teeth.
I felt there was something not quite right about the author’s theories, though I agreed with some of it – I haven’t put my finger on exactly what. It’s reassuring that ultimately I can depart this mortal coil, and nothing matters all that much, but…
If we really don’t own anything, not even our own bodies, that means there is much else that we don’t own. Husbands, wives, partners? If we don’t own our own bodies, we certainly don’t ‘have’ children. Does one have a life? What about the food we eat? Do we own that? In theory the food is free-floating, and if someone comes along and grabs it from you, they have as much right to eat it as you do – but if they grab it from you every time, and never let you have a bite, you will eventually die. At some point you have to insist on keeping that food. Reminds me of a TV commercial that’s on just now – the girl is moody and pushes her plate away, but when someone tries to take it, the girl goes into attack mode and grates: “touch my food, feel my fork!” She owns that food, alright.
Then there’s the issue about damage or loss of possessions not being the end of the world. I can’t help feeling there’s something more to that than simple possessiveness. Perhaps you have lost an item that gave you something that nothing else could do in quite that way. Maybe the jacket made you look especially smart, and you got a job when you wore it to an interview. Maybe the dress brought out the colour of your eyes and made you feel better as a result. Maybe the draft you wrote was going to be your bestseller and you couldn’t rewrite it quite as well. Even if it’s something you haven’t had time to get attached to yet, you will feel you didn’t get the use of it for your money. If you lose all these things, they won’t ruin your life but they can affect it up to a point. It’s telling that, even while saying “you don’t own anything, not even your life,” you have to use the words “your life.” Your life. What other words are you going to use?
Then again, there are things we have no particular need to keep… you liked the dress, but even if you get full use out of it, it will fall apart eventually. When I pointed that out, Mum laughed, and said “like men and their jackets. They can never let go. Even if it’s old and limp and all out at the elbows, with the cupboard full of snazzy new ones, they won’t let you throw it out because ‘that’s my GOOD jacket.'”
Sometimes it’s a case of altering our mindset towards the items that we ‘own’. When we are used to thinking of something as being ‘good’, it can be hard to let it go. Though Mum had a qualification even there: “it might have been a more comfortable jacket than the others.”
Well, I’ve just had to throw out my extra large denim shirt. For years I wore it as a kind of light jacket with the sleeves rolled up, but now it’s worn completely through at collar, elbows and cuffs. I have put it in the rag bag with the other rejected clothes. I gave it a wash first, hung it up to dry, then placed it in the bag last, with a pat and a hug. It’s on its way back to the universe.
Edit Feb 2008: Comments for this entry (copied across from the old blog site):
1. Pacian wrote at Feb 20, 2007 at 16:59:
“In theory the food is free-floating, and if someone comes along and grabs it from you, they have as much right to eat it as you do – but if they grab it from you every time, and never let you have a bite, you will eventually die.”
And yet couldn’t it be argued that by repeatedly grabbing it from you, they are really claiming ownership of it, in a rather underhanded fashion? Or perhaps you’re right, and in this case a more socialist notion of collective property is necessary, and the food should be eaten by whichever of you needs it most…
Because, of course, in the opposite case to your scenario, if you keep all the food that you own to yourself, then those who owned no food would starve instead.
2. Diddums wrote at Feb 21, 2007 at 01:30:
All food for thought…
I’ve been realizing that there’s an assumption that ‘you’ (your spirit) are separate from the universe in all sorts of ways – we are borrowing our bodies from the universe but are not part of it ourselves. I suggest that we are part of the universe (both spirit and body) and therefore own everything just as much as we own nothing. Not sure where that gets us in the food-grabbing dilemma. 🙂
3. kateblogs wrote at Feb 22, 2007 at 17:37:
Hmm, yes, I see what you mean. If we are borrowing our bodies from the universe how can we be separate from it? Surely that would mean we are not part of this universe and originate elsewhere and if the writer expects the reader to believe that, he/she is making all sorts of assumptions, not least that the reader shares his/her view of the reality of ‘things’.
4. geosomin wrote at Feb 22, 2007 at 19:13:
I love painting…but hate all the stuff leading up to the color part.
My husband on the other hand is cursed – I watch him paint and it should look good…but it always looks terrible when he paints. So usually he hangs out while I paint and brings me coffee and tries to make me laugh hard enough to fall off the ladder. Makes it more fun for both of us.
Hope the moving/settling is coming along well…
The idea of ownership and “stuff” is always something I struggle with. I like to think I’m not too materialistic, but there are sentimental things that matter to me…on the other hand I firmly believe I own my life…as much as I can. I don’t want to be guilty for having things I like, and yet I don’t want them to ever be the reason I live for. Maybe I’m an optimist and stubborn, but I don’t want someone else dictating what I do or say…I believe in giving and helping, but if you wear yourself out for others is that healthy? It’s when my life is taken over by other things that make it feel as though it isn’t my own that I generally get at odds with things and myself.
5. Diddums wrote at Feb 23, 2007 at 23:37:
It would be interesting to think we are not the centre of the universe, but the universe itself… ‘we are stardust’, or something.
Mum’s ‘let us paint together’ technique is to have me using a roller on the middle parts of the wall while she does the edges and fiddly bits with a small roller and a brush. It doesn’t stop me splodging paint on the new wallpaper, though…
“Maybe I’m an optimist and stubborn, but I don’t want someone else dictating what I do or say…”
That’s exactly why I wouldn’t go on one of those programmes – I’m sure there were several in which people had to declutter their houses, and they were made to get rid of some things they obviously didn’t want to give away. Even worse, there was a ‘crusher’, so when they sold their things, they could keep maybe one thing but the rest had to go in the crusher. Well maybe someone else would have liked those things and just wasn’t at the boot sale…
Someone who was keeping clothes as souvenirs was told to cut squares from them and throw out the rest. I’m quite sure she eventually ditched the entire box because they just wouldn’t have meant anything.
6. Bunnyman wrote at Feb 27, 2007 at 20:59:
I’m for the stardust theory.
Methinks we’re are all made up of tiny pieces of the Universe, even our souls – the breath that brings our fleshy substance to life. One moment we’re here, one moment elsewhere. Like my “good” jacket, one day I’ll wear out and all my pieces will eventually be recycled (hopefully minus lumps).
Mind you, while I’m still here, I too feel possessive about my teeth, More importantly perhaps, so do my gums.
I had been hoping to find volunteers to help me with the painting … I’ll keep looking 🙂
7. Diddums wrote at Feb 28, 2007 at 01:45:
Good decision – you really wouldn’t want me painting ‘delicately’ round the window or skirting board. 🙂 And I was trying to roller the ceiling (that’s a horrible job) and suddenly there was a loud clatter and the roller fell off the stick and thudded down onto the blankets which were protecting the carpet. Mum came over to investigate and put her foot in the paint. Sigh.