What We Keep

First Bug Drawing

Last night Maura and I attended a reading, signing, and conversation hosted by the wonderfulNational Museum of Toys and Miniatures. Seriously, if you are anywhere near KC and haven’t been, you MUST go. Authors Bill Shapiro (the former editor-in-chief and founding editor of Getty Images FOTO) and Naomi Wax (whose work has appeared in the New York Times, LA Times, and the Iowa Review) were at the museum to present their latest book called “WHAT WE KEEP, 150 People Share the One Object That Brings Them Joy, Magic, and Meaning“. Bill and Naomi interviewed people from all over the country, from all walks of life, asking them about an object that has deep meaning and then publishes images of the objects along with the stories, in the person’s own word. At the event, they did a reading of some of their favorite objects and stories, then did a Q&A answering some great questions from the attendees about their process, how they chose who to talk to, etc. They started by talking to people they knew, then took an exponential approach, talking to people that they people they knew knew. They then decided to travel across the country, seeking out people that they decided might be interesting to talk to. During their travels, they came to Kansas City, heard about the Toy and Miniature Museum and decided they had to stop in to check it out – only for half an hour or so. Unsurprisingly they ended up spending four hours there, missing an interview in Iowa.

After the reading and Q&A session, they did a book signing – before the reading, they were making their way around the room to introduce themselves to everyone. It was so great to meet them and have a brief conversation with them before the talk and at the signing – this project is obviously very meaningful to them. So meaningful in fact, that the last segment of the evening was a group conversation where the attendees broke into two groups to discuss their most treasured objects. During the break, Maura and I were naturally thinking about and discussing what objects we would have selected. Bill led the conversation at our table. He gave us a few minutes to draw the object on one side of a card, then flip it over and answer several questions about the object and why we chose it. We then went around the table discussing our objects. It was very touching, hearing these intimate stories from strangers and sharing our own.

Which brings me to the real point of this post. At the top of the post, you can see the drawing I did, from memory, of the object that I selected. Here is the actual car: First Bug Original I don’t think I did too bad, for a non-illustrator. As I was listening to the stories in Bill and Naomi’s book, I was thinking what meaning this toy car has to me.

Many of you know that I collect toy VW Beetles. Well, this is the original. I have many more Beetles now but this was the object that started me down the path to becoming a collector. I had never thought about what deeper meaning might be behind that Bug, but as I considered it last night I realized several things that I have never fully acknowledged. It was given to me by my father, early in my high school years. I have never had a strong relationship with him. He left when I was pretty young and for the first several years after that we didn’t see much of him. I ended up living with he and his second wife when I was in high school. My father came home one day after work and surprised me with the Bug out of the blue. I’m sure I had mentioned my love for the VW Beetle and that I wanted to drive one someday (I still haven’t bought one and yes, it has to be a vintage one, not the new abomination). This was one of the only truly thoughtful gestures I ever experience from my father. It was a small thing, but it meant that he had heard me and more importantly, done something about it. The majority of what I learned from my father was what I didn’t want to be as a man or as a human being. Thinking about the history of this car last night, I realized that I had learned something positive from him after all. I learned that listening is powerful, and no matter how small the gesture, acting on what you hear even more so. It’s difficult for me to acknowledge that I might have learned something positive from my father, he was pretty worthless as an example most of the time.

It was interesting to talk about it so openly last night with a table full of strangers. As we were leaving, an older gentleman who we shared the table with approached me, placed his hand on my shoulder, and told me how much he appreciated what I shared. This, I believe, is what Bill and Naomi’s project was ultimately about. Everyone has stories, they simply used a person’s cherished object as a focal point to bring out some of these stories. It must have felt like a tremendous privilege to be able to talk to all of those people as they shared theirs. I can’t wait to read the book and experience more of them!

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