Most of the time, we tend to hold onto things and objects that make us smile or revel in a sweet moment of nostalgia. The majority of the boxes in my basement that I’m slowly taking inventory of represent just that — special moments in time, embodied in a collection of like things. It’s cathartic to take a trip down memory lane once in a while and revisit those moments. Taking some time to make some tough decisions about whether to “let it go” and live on in memory or to dust it off and see where it should live today isn’t exactly fun, but sometimes it’s necessary.
A few weeks ago, I made a decision that a basement full of memories was a little too similar to living in a haunted house. I wanted to somehow honor the contents of the many boxes that lived there, but more importantly, I wanted to actively determine (on a gut level) if I needed to reclaim this space for my needs today. Armed with my camera, I decided to gather the contents of my boxes and give them their due, respectively, by creating an image archive. This would give me some time to figure out where these treasured things should live moving forward.
Going through these boxes, there were tons of moments when I was reminded of where I was at a certain time in my life. Yep, I cringed at some, nearly gagged at others and some made me smile, feeling a pure sense of freedom and growth. Some were just gross and needn’t be given another thought or photograph. Then I opened my paint chip box.
Never in my life did I think a box of 200+ 1×1 pieces of card stock could hold so much all-over-the-place emotion. Each color had a memory, each color name printed on the paper was heavy with meaning and equal signs. Somehow, a light purple color chip named Dreamland equaled Central Park with Sascha. It was a crazy color math equation that I never quite solved. I had opened Pandora’s box, disguised as an Amazon Prime package.
Needless to say, I had to let the box sit for a few days before tackling it. When I’d take a break from work and sit in my favorite chair in my living room, I felt as if the color chip was sitting directly below me in the basement, smiling all sorts of vaguely creepy smiles, as defiant and sassy as a middle school mean girl. The box was demanding attention and it was getting impatient.
Just like the familiar scene in horror movies, I made my slow and cautious descent down the basement stairs, almost hoping for something to jump out and take my attention away from the box. No such luck. Not a single rodent, snake or masked figure came to my rescue. It was just me and a bunch of boxes. And the box, still open with the paint chips spilling out like a beautiful waterfall, whose powerful force could pummel you on the rocks below.
Armed with my camera, I suddenly realized that taking photos of 200 chips wasn’t that practical. It was downright weird and quite possibly the biggest waste of time I’d indulged in. So I grabbed a dusty chair and sat there, going through each paint chip one by one. As the saying goes, I laughed, I cried and I also cringed, gagged, giggled, and cocked my head trying to remember every detail of the memory embedded in the color at hand.
I told myself jokes to get through some of the more painful memories, like, “This is the original memory chip. Take that, technology!” And finally, three and half hours later, I had gone through the entire box and I was exhausted. Sadly, I realized that I still had no idea what to do with this box or where it should live.
I was left with a familiar feeling, though. I couldn’t quite place it, but it was one made up of part nostagia, part grief and a ton of knowing smiles. Then I came upon it. It was the feeling that I have when I sit down to paint. I’m not “a painter,” but I paint often and love how I get lost in the process, but never have a creative hangover because there is a tangible result and a container for what I was feeling. It just feels complete.
I picked out the 20 colors I had the strongest reaction to and headed upstairs to capture the emotions they aroused on paper with some gouache. I wrote down a simple summary of what the chip reminded me of next to the quick painting, and it worked! The feeling ended like it did when would I paint portraits from old magazines or the flowers on my porch. All gone! Preserved, honored, recognized and felt fully. They now had a place of their own and I had mine.
The next day, I trotted down the basement stairs, grabbed the box and walked into town to drop it off at the local shop where they hold art classes for kids. As the delighted kids reached into the box and grabbed handfuls of squares, I wanted to shout “Be careful with that one,” or “Macaroni and cheese is really special,” but it passed and it passed quickly. I knew that the memories were in good hands and would turn into to something even more beautiful and hang in a window that I’d pass every day.
I smiled as I thought about Dreamland, pasted on construction paper with flowers around it and the words “By Emma, Age 8.” —Caitlin