Alyska and I are collectors. She collects Kodak folding cameras and projectors, I collect typewriters and Russian cameras. These items represent powerful forces in our lives — creativity, mechanism, self-actualization.
These are beautiful machines in themselves but the things they allow are what captivates us. These devices are an interface between a person, their creative spirit — call it muse or inspiration or that awful thing that only appears when I don’t have paper to write it down — and the outer world. Through them may c we build something that did not exist until eye met prism, until fingers met keys.
The act of acquisition is an immensely powerful drive. Setting aside the American consumerist zeitgeist, when you’re a collector much of the joy springs from the journey to find your next piece. It is as close as many get to Indiana Jones’ style archaeology — you set a day, map your situations, dig through awkward corners of overstuffed rooms hoping that Thuggee bandits don’t jump out of that wicker basket.
When you find something, the feeling is intoxicating. It’s there, dusty, on a desk that no one has sat at for decades, wondering at its own purpose. You feel the capability it still has. For me, place hands on keys and hearing that clack of smooth hammer action is what will sell me. For Alyska, the faint difference in the shuck of 1/30 versus 1/100 a second spring-loaded shutter time. It’s finding life.
And life can get ahead of you. We try not to buy everything we find lest our house be so full of little mechanical interfaces that we cannot navigate our own rooms. We place limits on our collections, strict ones, to keep the stacks in check. We both will only collect things that work or could easily be made to work by our own hand. Typewriters can be restored, but I can only fix certain problems myself yet. She can unstick a shutter on occasion or remount a lens. But some pieces are yet out of reach.
It’s important to have a limit for it, though, part for controlling but part to help these interfaces work again. I’ve typed something — letters, poetry, on all my typewriters. She’s shot with most of her folding cameras. These working objects have purpose re-discovered and in us they instill it.
The dance of utility, joy of discovery, the finite space we occupy all must balance. Collections can grow large. There are many, many things even when you limit yourself to certain elements, that you can acquire and at some point you reach a limit. Where does my adventure end with any of these objects?
We, in fact, love that we requested the device from that barn (and narrowly escaping the Thuggees who protected it) but is it any better sitting on my shelf than in that barn? If we believe a machine can have purpose, at they are built to perform that purpose, it is unjust for us to let it sit and diminish again.
And I think that’s the point at which we must release these things back into the world. When the emotional resonance has dwindled to a faint ringing in the ears and this working machine is admired a little less, it must find a new home.
This moment is hard. You remember the dust, the digging, the serendipity. You cannot imagine letting go of this machine that was lost.
Just look here: you found it; you reveled in joy of it again. That will never change and in absence may that grow fonder while allowing for the space your next.
And in letting go, may you allow another to find their own adventure