Elevate Difference

My things, my grand-mother’s things

One of the wonderful things about living in this digital age is that you don’t have to be famous to be a real artist or a writer. You can create your vision, and then get it out into the world through the Internet if you're so inclined. And once online, you don't ever have to throw anything you create away. It can all be stored... forever.

Enter Sarah Pinder: a Toronto essayist who, for a decade now, has been a maker of zines, self-published works. And for about two bucks (Canadian currency), you can own and enjoy her brief yet insightful pondering My things, my grand-mother’s things.

What I like about Pinder’s prose is that it’s highly relatable. True, I can relate as a woman with a Depression-era grandparent who hoarded trinkets away, and as one who helped to clear those objects out of attics and basements after that seemingly ancient relative had passed on. And I can relate to her take on twenty-something nostalgia: the place when we’re not quite ready to be grown up and throw away our childhood things.

But most, if not all, people can relate to her rather haunting description of how the spaces we inhabit shape and trap our memories, not because of their own qualities, but because they become “repositories” for the things we collect along the way: “My grandmother lived in a house that was a constant archive of identity... Everything in this house was a touchstone, a trigger to summon memory... And regardless of how broken or worn things were, my grandparents’ Depression aesthetic meant that nothing was thrown out...”

This reviewer had two sets of Depression-surviving grandparents and observed two distinct reactions to the crisis. One set decided that: well, if they overcame that, they could overcome anything. They lived out their days without saving much of anything. The other parent's father became a hoarder. This man, who as a boy had shot and skinned squirrels for supper so as not to starve, secretly tucked away mountains of seemingly meaningless household items: camera film, new pens, etc. He was never content to have just one of anything after the Depression ended, and cleaning out his closets yielded hundreds, if not thousands, of things-treasures to him-that told tales of a man obsessed with getting to the bottom of how things work, and a man who lived in fear of owning absolutely nothing.

Pinder’s essay serves as a wonderful launch pad for this kind of reminiscing if you’re game. Her words seem genuine and her doodles–somewhat resembling the sketches of Shel Silverstein–might remind you of any number of seemingly frivolous objects your ancestors once collected and then subsequently left behind. “(I)t seemed callous to get rid of objects from a space that held such meaning for me, regardless of the fact that the objects I had were not the touchstones I’d hoped to use to recreate my grandmother’s life before illness,” Pinder reveals.

For more information or to purchase any of Pinder’s zines, visit her online hub Bits of String Press. My things, my grand-mother’s things was given as a lecture in October, 2009 at the Ontario College of Art and Design during a symposium called “Collectorama,” which focused on people’s obsessions with the act of collecting.

Written by: Rachel Moehl, August 31st 2010