I am neither a collector or a keeper of things. I came into this world an Army brat who was used to losing most of what he had every few years, and then I became a soldier myself. Even after the Army I moved often. The only thing that seems to follow me are bad habits and coffee mugs.
One of those mugs came during a crisis in my life; I was struggling with youth, disposable income, and alcohol. I was working for The Stars & Stripes in Europe, stationed near Darmstadt, Germany (West Germany then). New hounds are a cliquish breed, and I wasn’t in any of the cliques. One day while shopping in the Post Exchange I found some Ugly Mugs. It was the early 1980s and I wasn’t very discriminating. Somehow it became attached to me and to my struggles. I had it through some very dark times and never threw it away, though. Odd, considering how many important and irreplaceable things from that time I have casually tossed aside. I don’t use it much though; the damn thing doesn’t hold enough coffee and sloshes too easily.
By the late 80s I was sober, a civilain, working at a newspaper in Maryland. I’d hooked up with my partner for the next 20 years. My favorite cartoon was The Far Side by Gary Larson. The Midvale School for the Gifted was my favorite panel. It just seemed so like me, that kid who was supposed to always be doing better than he really could, pushing so hard on the door with a big PULL sign. My life in a nutshell.
We couldn’t afford the mug the year it came out. We were young and poor. The next year it was off the shelves. No eBay existed then, and my wife looked high and low to find it for my birthday. Just opening it was a shock, and it will always hold a special place in my heart. It’s so old the white glaze inside has worn gray. Larson’s lawyers are vigilant about Far Side images on the web and I might have to take this down if they find it, but here and now you see one of my valued possessions.
We’d moved to North Carolina. She was a
grad student, I was a struggling part-timer (which meant only 30-35 hours a week) while occasionally getting a freelance article published. At a store specializing in NC potter’s works I found this mug that reminded me of my El Paso days when I’d been stationed at Ft. Bliss. It’s a damn good mug. Holds a good amount, nice heft, and again the inside glaze is nearly worn through.
Living with a grad student going into academics is a lonely life. We went to Chicago, and of course I had a lot of time alone. I spent a day in the Museum of Science and Industry (see Devil in the White City). It’s a fantastic place and was the best day in that town for me. I’ve never been back, but one day I shall return. To both the museum (and to the pizza).
But we were on our way. Nat had a Fellowship at Stanford University. The dot-com boom was in full swing. I was trying to get a job on this new web thingy, teaching myself HTML, Coldfusion (the
programing platform, not the fake science) and SQL. And making more money as a temp than I had after 15 years in journalism. I wasn’t prescient about journalism’s future, just very damn lucky. We had a ratty old apartment a very short walk from the Stanford Bookstore, which had become one of my most beloved places. This is a small mug, but represents a huge leap of faith in my life.
Leaps of faith become important. They are the moment you make a choice
and step in
to something new. There is now assurance, ‘faith’ is believing you will find you way or that you can accept the failure that follows. It was three months before I found a job. Three months of questioning myself, of growing doubts that I was cut out for anything that could make a real living. Sometimes a leap of faith leads to a long fall and a big splat. But somehow I found someone willing to take a chance on an old guy in his 30s, which was ancient on the web then — as it is now.
Another leap of faith led me to a new life. I’d been divorced, determined I wasn’t meant to live with anyone again, and dead set against any group that could be vaguely called family. I’ve lost enough, thank you. No more ties that just hurt when they get cut.
So of courlse I found myself living with a new partner, who brought into my life a huge new group of people. I find it an alien world, this group that actually gets along (for the most part) and thinks much like I do.
And thus I wound up at the graduation of a niece of Jenn’s from Davidson College in North Carolina. I felt like an alien in this new group of people. I still do, actually. In part, I think, it is because I was born not far from either Roswell or Los Alamos, so it is conceivable I AM an alien. I like to think so when I see what some people do.
But after the gradualtion Jenn took me to a store selling the work of craftpeoples and I found this mug. It jumped off the wall at me. And it speaks the truth.
I WILL actually die without my coffee. I don’t drink, smoke or do any non-prescription drugs. The Universe demands some vices of us and coffee is
one of mine. We won’t discuss the others right now. This mug is part of a new phase of my life, with a new partner. I have said Jenn’s family is very alien to me. But I like it, and in dark times I know a better youth spent in a better family would have made life easier and caused less pain for those I have hurt in stumbling toward this strange path I’ve found.
One day Jenn and I went to the Grand Canyon. (In the writing biz that’s called “Really Bad Transition.”)
There isn’t anything I can say that hasn’t become a cliche. But this big ditch is a damn powerful, beautiful cliche-worthy place on Earth. I picked this mug from the Hermits Rest store because the colors remind me of the canyon. I didn’t want anything gaudy or faux “Native American-y” and the bird is the animal you most commonly see. Jenn put some distance under her with hiking poles and we had a great time. This mug isn’t to say I’ve been there, it’s to remember the feeling.
Maybe that makes me a collector, though I don’t feel like one. I’ve lived a life of casual loss, so often pretending the things I left behind didn’t matter when they indeed hurt me deeply. But life is leaving things behind. Nothing lasts forever. We certainly don’t. These mugs will, after time, get broken or whatever. It doesn’t matter so long as I get the use out of them intended (memories as well as too much coffee).
Enjoy and be sad to let go, but move on from it. That’s the lesson for me in these small items of little worth but great value (that sounds too good, I must have stolen that from somewhere).