Elizabeth Bishop’s poem One Art begins with the lines :
‘The art of losing isn’t hard to master; so many things seem filled with the intent to be lost that their loss is no disaster.’
We are going to lose stuff, jobs, dreams, even people, in course of our lifetime. Why not get good at it? In fact, we probably could all stand to lose things we no longer need: extra pounds, bad attitudes, painful memories, household clutter. Books outining methods of clearing out our clutter are very popular at the moment, and more of us are valuing experiences over possessions. The younger generation are no longer interested in having the ‘family heirlooms’ of the past, just at the same time that the ageing baby boom generation is leaving ever bigger piles of stuff behind. But it’s not just redundant possessions that we need to lose, it’s the desire, compulsion even, to hang onto every detail of our past, and the belief that somehow we are diminished without our ‘stuff’ that needs to get lost.
We are going to lose stuff, jobs, dreams, even people, in course of our lifetime. Why not get good at it?
I have fought ‘pack-rat-itis’ practically my whole life, and it is Bishop’s final line ‘It’s evident the art of losing’s not too hard to master though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.’ that really hit home: make art out of your losses. Write a poem. Paint a picture. Don’t just accept loss, embrace it as an opportunity to create something new out of what is left behind. (I found Bishop’s poem so inspiring, I commissioned a composer to set it into a modern art song, and then performed and recorded it. She changed ‘write it!’ to ‘sing it!’ For me.) When I am faced with sorting through, discarding/donating/recycling my own sentimental clutter, I look for ways to creatively use small pieces of the items in patchwork or collage, making ‘art’ out of letting go.
Recently my son came to me with one of his favourite t-shirts that he had outgrown. Now, he seems miraculously free of the pack-rat gene, and I hope he will stay that way. But he really liked that t-shirt. ‘Can you make me a cushion like you did before?’ (I had made a cushion cover for his older sister, using an old hoodie, her favourite, which reminded her of a family holiday, but that she had outgrown.) He wanted to let go of the t-shirt – after all, it no longer fit – but not the memories. We gathered a few more amusing bits and a much smaller shirt that I had been saving back for this purpose, and he did the designing while I did the sewing. Here is the result.
Now, I’m not the first person to make things like this, in fact it’s part of an art form that goes back centuries, from mosaic to collage to crazy quilts. Most of the time, people, mainly women, made patchwork quilts out of necessity, using worn out clothes and scraps left over from other sewing projects, because they couldn’t afford to waste anything. These days, we – unfortunately – can very much afford to waste. So the making of this type of handicraft serves another purpose: to preserve memories, and to give ourselves a way of letting go of some possessions by using small parts of them to make something new. This way, we can let go, accept loss, even embrace it, with gentleness, creativity and even joy. The sadness of having to throw something away (or recycle it in some way) is replaced by the excitement of creation.