On my most recent visit spring visit to Phoenix, Arizona to watch spring training baseball, I took a day off to visit the MIM (Musical Instrument Museum) which had been recommended to me repeatedly by two of my best friends.
I am not a great museum visitor. If it says to plan to stay for three hours, I’m pretty sure I will be done in one. It’s one of the substantial differences between my wife and I when it comes to travel is that she will go through EVERY room, and read EVERY card for every part of the exhibits. This is not a criticism. She likes to soak in all of the details and moves through the museum at a most leisurely pace.
I sort of cruise through and skim a lot of what I see unless or until something really catches my attention, and then I’ll read up on it more thoroughly. On this particular day, I found two rooms that were terrific. One exhibit, called “Dragons and Vines” was dedicated to the art of how elements like pearl, abalone and other substances are inlaid into the fretboard and body of guitars. The technology,craftsmanship, and flights of imagination were incredible. The second room was dedicated to individual artists worldwide featuring pictures, videos, instruments, and outfits that they wore on stage. I think I spent over an hour in these two rooms alone. I had to go back into both rooms twice, just to be sure I hadn’t missed anything.
I spent about 10 minutes in the entire rest of the museum which featured a vast array of musical instruments from all over the world. It was overwhelming, and I really didn’t care about the how or why the noisemakers of Sri Lanka were different that those from Serbia. If I had read any of the info cards on the second floor, I would have forgotten anything I learned by the time I got back to my car. It’s why I don’t spend the time reading up on all of the historical stuff. I just don’t retain it. I leave museums with a few highlights in my mind and a general sense of if it met or exceeded my expectations going in. In this case, the MIM absolutely did. I loved the two rooms that I loved. That was plenty for me.
Museums are like our archives of our civilizations, right? Besides teaching us about who we are, we are trying to hold on to the good stuff so we don’t forget about it.
I’ve been thinking about that as my wife and I have been going through a continual purging process around the house. It started when we had to move virtually everything out while we were having our floors re-done. We have thrown away and given away boxes and bags full of clothing, books, furniture, kitchen supplies, you name it. Going through the process made us look at everything, contemplate how long it had been since we used or even touched the item (we have lived in the same house for 36 years) and soon we had cleared whole shelves and emptied multiple storage boxes.
We’ve been trying to narrow the archive, our personal museum, down to the really important stuff–to the things that will bring us joy to look at and that will enrich the lives of whomever we decide to leave these things to in the future.
I keep thinking about what I wanted to leave behind to the people I love to remember me by. Didn’t it make sense to start giving some of this stuff away now? I’d rather give them a keepsake of some real or sentimental value now, while I can cogently say to them, “Here’s the story behind this object and why it’s so important to me, and I want you to have it because I know you’ll love and value it just as much as I have.”
Like, I have this wine opener, a simple but elegant design, that my dad gave to me when I was 21. We met up after work on the day I turned 21, and he took me out for my first official drink. But as we were drinking in this divey little bar, he told me what he had REALLY wanted to do for me on my birthday. He had planned to take me to a strip club when I turned 21. Apparently, his father had done this with him on his 21st as kind of a rite of passage thing, to expose him to the “world of men” and show him it was no big thing. He wanted to continue that little tradition with his son, but my mom quashed his plan, so we had to settle for a drink together. I kind of wish he had thrown caution to the wind and that we had had that moment together doing something a little salacious, just me and him. Even though we didn’t, I appreciated that his heart was in the right place.
The fact that I have managed to hold on to this token for over 40 years makes it valuable along with the memories it holds. My daughter Emily, who enjoys an occasional glass of wine recently celebrated her 30th birthday. I gave her the opener with a letter explaining its history and significance to me. I knew that she would like the thought that the gift was from both me and her Grandpa Jack.
So, as I go through every box and crate, I take a hard look at what is still stuck in our own personal museum and think about the people I love and wonder if they might like this object or that book, dedicated especially to them. It’s easy to accumulate a lot over nearly 40 years and sometimes so much harder to begin to let it go.