The Young Collector
Have we mentioned we’re busy? Oh, we are. We are so busy. We are trying to run two small businesses and find a house to move into and get a house ready to sell. We are awash in forms and documentation and bank statements and bookkeeping e-mails. There are tour groups to lead and museums in Illinois to visit and talks for Dish Camp to prepare and website ads to sell. And we have two small children to go with those two small businesses, so it’s running here and there with homeschool gym classes and trips to the library and fixing nutritious meals and then convincing people to eat those meals and reading aloud in our spare moments and “Please, for the love of all that is holy, just Put. On. Your. Shoes.” (Hollie’s pretty sure that’s what will go on her tombstone.) We’re sure we’ve mentioned it because, as we’re often reading, we’re part of the culture of busy. You know, the one that worships at the altar of exhaustion and believes in the holy trinity of “Sure, we can do that,” “What’s a weekend?” and “Who needs sleep?”
Except we’ve been wondering lately if it’s not more than that. We are not part of a “busy” culture, but more of a “doer” culture, one where it is not sufficient to do, but instead to do. If you look around, you can see this everywhere. For instance, if you’re under 50, you probably have friends in two camps—the CrossFit camp and the camp where CrossFit is a cult. Folks doing CrossFit don’t just exercise. They exercise. They hang out with other people who exercise; they post photos of themselves doing exercise; and they have constant competitions and national rankings for exercise. It is not enough to put on your sneakers and do a couple of laps around the track or spend 30 minutes a few times a week with some weights. If you think it is, in the current culture, then you are a slacker and you probably have bad arteries and potato chips hidden somewhere in your house.
We see the ideological divide in our country growing larger and larger in part because of this. Church used to be something that families did once a week, perhaps with the occasional church social activity, but increasingly our friends who go to church go to church. They have church on Sundays, charitable work on Mondays, small group meetings on Wednesday, Bible study group on Thursday, and church softball on Saturday. It’s because we’ve become a culture of extremes.
Parenting in doer culture is crushing so many of us! First of all, you can’t just teach your child the ABCs. There’s Baby Einstein, except some research shows there isn’t, because it’s not effective. Maybe Sesame Street is a better choice? Of course, they’d learn their ABCs better with some sensory-related activity, so maybe you should let them trace the letters in shaving cream. Except shaving cream? Lots of chemicals. It doesn’t matter if they don’t put it in their mouths, it might soak in through their skin. So salt instead. Oh, but I used up all the salt when making homemade playdough with seasonal scents. (You’d like to think we’re joking about this stuff. Moms are under siege. Hollie swears she is not joking about reading about pumpkin spice playdough. Made with real pumpkin, of course. Organic pumpkin probably. These people are not fooling around.)
We know it’s easy to laugh about all that when you’re older and your children have grown up to be just fine in spite of everything you did to them. “Oh,” you’re probably saying, “kids just learn their ABCs. Sing the ABC song to them while they brush their teeth every night, and before long, they’ll be doing it themselves. Just relax, would you?” And that’s just what we did too, and yes they did, and we try to relax, but just as women in the 1960s struggled to buck the cultural norms by wearing slacks when the other women around them weren’t, it’s hard to be different when you’re in a sea of messages (a sea that might not be larger, but is, thanks to social media, arguably much louder) that what you’re doing is wrong, it’s a mistake, and it will have dire consequences.
There are a lot of people making money promulgating this attitude. Companies such as Blue Apron are thriving because we can’t just cook, can’t just open a can of Manwich, a bag of buns, and some frozen peas and call it dinner. (Hey, protein and green vegetable—what more is there?) That’s processed food! Refined flour! You must cook! It is not a meal unless there is arugula or cutlets or pink Himalayan salt.
And we pay a heavy price. We never have friends over, because we can’t just order a pizza and have a movie. We must clean and then entertain. Our kids can’t just swing a bat and have some fun. They have to play; they have to commit. Hollie recently found herself falling into this trap with something as simple as reading. After using Goodreads and setting a goal for the year, suddenly it’s not about savoring a book but about getting through it, or about picking a more literary choice than a cozy mystery or a lightweight memoir. It’s exhausting, but we seem to think the only way to be safe or “right” is to do. Do everything, do it well, or else. CrossFit, megachurches, online meal services, the tiny house movement—it’s all taking everything to extremes, and now we have a means to broadcast, recruit, and compare ourselves to others with social media.
What happens to people when they have that kind of pressure in so many areas of their lives? They drop out. If you can’t make time or develop passion to exercise, you might not exercise at all. You like basketball but will probably perennially stink at free throws? Don’t bother. Many of us seem to end up living pigeonholed little lives that allow room only for the things we can really do.
All this brings us right up to the front door of the modern antiques marketplace. If you are going to have antiques, you must collect and curate. We make that very clear by emphasizing antiques in old houses surrounded by other old things or by focusing heavily on collectors and excluding casual users of antiques. After all, collectors are serious. A person who collects buys large volume and writes larger checks.
We understand, and yet, we have these friends, would-be collectors only. Some of our friends—old friends from elementary school, friends such as the woman who cuts our hair, coworkers from past jobs—like the intersection of antiques and country kitsch. Several of those people own a few antiques, things they acquired from parents or grandparents or picked up at a yard sale. They did not get any of them by driving two hours and paying $10 for a ticket to a show. These folks are the norm in 21st-century America, so instead of smacking our heads on our keyboards when we see a Facebook post about a new piece of assembled furniture, we try to be encouraging. (These folks really have no idea how affordable antiques can be. The single most common response we get when we talk about antiques with non-antiques friends is “Is that ALL?!” because they, ahem, have gotten the notion from somewhere that this is a game they can’t afford to play.)
One of the best things we can do for these folks is one of the best things we can do for ourselves—just endeavor to live, no emphasis needed. Younger people are living in a culture where they feel pressed to excel, engage, and commit at every level in every arena. We had lives before social media happened and we have lives still, even if every moment of them is not “worthy” of Facebook or Instagram.
Finding our way back to a sense of not being on stage at all times is not just worthwhile but essential, and there is little that says “Come as you are” or “This too shall pass” as much as old furniture living another incarnation in a long, quiet life. We take everything to extremes except listening, but antiques say what younger people need to hear. Maybe sometimes all we can do is let them speak for themselves.
We welcome ideas, tips, criticisms, and questions regarding “The Young Collector.” We may be reached by e-mail <[email protected]>, on Facebook (www.facebook.com/TheYoungAntiquesCollectors), or by writing The Young Collector, c/o Maine Antique Digest, PO Box 1429, Waldoboro, ME 04572.
Originally published in the June 2017 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2017 Maine Antique Digest