The Storming Bohemian Punks The Muse: 2021 Edition #3—”Of Time And Hoarding, Mystiques And Mistakes”
Today, reading an article in the New York Times, I learned of the Nebra Sky Disk. This disk of metal, depicting constellations of the night sky, has been called “the oldest known depiction of astronomical phonemena.” I was fascinated.
I learn. I take an interest in odd things. I develop peculiar enthusiasms.
Curious since boyhood, I have always had a fascination with mysterious objects. Even as a small child, I experienced an almost sexual attraction to the stars. By the time I was seven, I was in love with magic tricks. Not just the fun of fooling people, but the objects with which magic was made held for me a hypnotic thrall. I could sit for hours fondling “the paddle trick,” or a pack of playing cards, or compressible sponge balls that could be made to appear and disappear and multiply, or the wonderful “floating zombie ball”—a silver orb that could convincingly be made to fly through the air. In a magic shop, I could be rendered breathless by the sight of crowded shelves of magical apparatus. Even the word “apparatus”—the preferred term in the textbooks for a magician’s props—gave me shivers of delight.
The unknown has always attracted me, far more than explanations. Explain to me the physics of a bouncing ball, and I will check out from boredom—unlike my engineer sister, for example, who would find it extremely exciting. But tell me that nobody knows or could know how the ball bounces, and I’ll be delighted for hours—not with the bouncing ball so much as with the aura of mystery evoked by the unknowable.
So the article about the Nebra Sky Disk really got me going. There is debate, I learned, as to its age and provenance. While its claim to be the first such object is acknowledged by scholars, some feel it was made in the Bronze Age, while others insist it shows signs of being younger by a millennium, surely an artifact of the Iron Age. There is mystery to that: it was found at a site with a variety of Bronze Age artifacts, which would seem to favor its earlier manufacture, but some scholars argue it must have been stolen from an Iron Age site and reburied among the Bronze Age artifacts, so that when it was “discovered” it would have more market value due to its being more ancient.
I learned not of the truth, but of the mystery. I have always been more interested in the existence of a mystery than in its resolution. I prefer to preserve mystiques than to correct mistakes.
What intrigued me most in the story of the Nebra Sky Disk was a discussion that came near the end of the NY Times piece. The article noted that the Nebra Sky Disk, unlike many ancient artifacts, was not buried with a body—It was given its own grave as if it were a person. The author noted that there were quite a few Bronze Age graveyards of special (perhaps sacred?) objects: kind of like holy landfills.
This idea resonates with me. I thought of hoarders I have known, and considered the possibility that hoarding is a kind of animistic religious activity—things can’t be tossed away because they are in some sense alive, which means they are carriers of a mystery not to be discarded lightly. Perhaps if we had sacred landfills, hoarders would be more willing to part with their hoards.
I am not a hoarder, for the most part, but we all are a little bit, aren’t we? I have, for instance, my mother’s good china, which she inherited from her mother before I inherited it from her. But I don’t think I’ve eaten on it more than twice. Still, it resides in a rarely opened cabinet, and I’m glad to know it’s there.
And speaking of magic tricks, I have a box in my closet of those bits of apparatus I have salvaged from childhood or bought anew in honor of my romantic childhood memories. There is a “zombie floating ball” and a handful of multiplying sponge rubber balls, and a couple of color changing knives, and a few trick decks of cards. I don’t often take them out to play with, but it pleases me to think of ’em.
And then there’s the library of a thousand or more books, many of which I’ve already read, possible once and for all, and others which I will probably never get to. But there they sit and I find it more than difficult to part with any of ’em. (I did however, recently toss a year’s worth of “Poets & Writers,” “New York Review of Books,” and “London Review of Books” — but only to make room for another year. This year I might add “The Believer” and/or “The Atlantic” to my collection.
Recently, I had a scare when my landlord announced that he was taking my apartment off the rental market and I was to be evicted. I have spent a number of days rummaging through stuff, wondering what could be heaved overboard. Happily, my landlord had a change of heart and I am spared despair.
Among the many things I discovered in my rummaging, however, were hundreds of play programs saved by my deceased husband, Jim. We were only together in our shared home for three years, before he died. In that time, we attended the theatre several times a month, thanks to my avocation of theatre critic. Although I am a passionate theatre lover, I have never been a keeper of program souvenirs, but Jim was.
Rummaging through the stack, I was flooded with memories. Not so much of the plays, but of Jim: Ah, this was the night we began our tradition of eating jelly beans at the opera! This was the night we stopped to browse at City Lights Bookstore and Jim bought a copy of Ulysses Grant’s autobiography! Driving to Mill Valley to a play one night, we stopped at a little taqueria beneath a freeway overpass that Jim remembered from decades ago when he lived in Marin. Oh! This is the program from the outdoor production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream when poor Bottom nearly got bit by a rattlesnake! This was the night we held hands all the way home in the car.
I decided to keep the programs. They are as wonderful and mysterious to me as the Nebra Sky Disc, as distant as the Bronze Age (after all, dead is dead), as intimate as last night’s moonshine.