Keeping it Personal

About this time every year, I go to the living-room bookshelves, pull out The Poetry of Robert Frost, and reread “A Patch of Old Snow” as a way of saying farewell to winter.

Then I’ll casually turn a few pages to see what catches my eye. There’s the description, for example, of an emerging springtime seedling that “with arched body comes shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.”

The 607-page volume of Frost’s works keeps shelf company with humble paper-bound Poetry magazines, along with hardbound and paperback works from Edna St. Vincent Millay to Carl Sandburg and a framed photo of Lombardy poplars taken in a French village we once came upon at “the magic hour.”

While replacing the book, I was reminded of an HGTV makeover program, one that typically offers sound money-saving ways to transform a room. In one episode, the interior designer offers advice to a young homeowner on filling shelves.

As they prowl a used bookshop, the TV personality suggests nice bindings only, no paperbacks.

Leather-bound antique books are undeniably handsome. They add color, texture, and a certain gravitas to a space.

And who doesn’t love a beautiful coffee-table volume on display?

But for-show and for-real are not always the same thing.

Like a version of the emperor’s new clothes, when your personal treasures (lovely or humble) are nowhere in sight, nobody’s home.

At home and out in the world, we’re always seeking a familiar note, some common ground in the vast sea of humanity.

In the recent full-blown media coverage of skyrocketing basketball pro Jeremy Lin, one Chinese-American spectator admitted being in tears as he watched Lin play. There was, reflected in the red-hot player, a bit of him.

Life shouldn’t be about possessions, but they do reflect who we are. That’s why it’s hard to weed out dog-eared books and prized CD collections. The decision to shift our reading to Kindle and surrender our music to the “clouds” isn’t easy, even though they’ll be just a few keyboard taps away.

Surrendering the physical version of anything feels as if we’re returning to the primitive past, when stories were word of mouth and songs were simply sung.

As more of what we listen to and read moves into the ether, we still long for the tangible, which explains the pleasure of walking into City Bird boutique in Midtown Detroit to discover a record playing on a turntable. Spinning vinyl evokes a mood that’s somehow warmer and more real.

Part of the pleasure of being at home is the ability to run our hands over hand-scraped wood, touch the raised pattern of embroidery, or admire brushwork in a painting.
Like the hospitable offer of an aromatic cup of coffee or chilled lemonade, it’s personal.

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