Monday, August 3, 2009

Collections~Part Two

Teak World

I call my bedroom "Teak World" because I have a lot of teak things in there. People often ask me how I got started with the teak collection so here's the story:

At some point, a few years ago, when I was looking to replace my particle-board table desk with something more solid and cool, I thought first of finding an old library table. I looked high and low for such a thing and couldn't find anything.

One day I was reminded of my Dad's old desk, a big 60's era Danish teak one which I'd always loved, so I started looking around for a teak desk instead of a library table since I couldn't find one of them either. I looked around on line and around here but nothing was right, or if it was, it was thousands of dollars. Many other people like these desks too..

I happened to be looking around in a local antique shop here in Ashland and they had this teak table with fold out leaves that was about the right size. I liked the wood a lot, teak has a really beautiful and distinctive grain, and it certainly reminded me of my Dad's desk. The price was really good so I bought it.

Then, because it was just a table with no drawers, I started looking for, or happened to find, a roll top teak box that matched perfectly. I started looking for more roll tops and, being an obsessive collector type, I wanted them to match what I already had. I started to look on eBay and I found an item that was intriguing. It was a phone from the 60's that was built into a nice teak box. It was an old rotary phone and wouldn't really have suited me, but I liked the phone-in-a-box idea. So, I found a larger roll top teak bread box and figured out a way to get my phone in there.

From there it just expanded out. I found that there was a whole bunch of teak out there. Basically in three categories: Kitchen and household type items from Thailand, nautical shipboard type stuff (teak is naturally close to waterproof), and Danish mid-century modern design type stuff. I have some of all three but I always preferred the mid-century modern stuff, even if it was more expensive and harder to find. At some point I got to buying these teak cheeseboards. I'd throw away the glass cover and just keep the disc. When I had a bunch of them I decided to put them on the wall in kind of a wave pattern around my room. Then I added another row or two and now they're snaking all over the place.

Other items just sort of fell into my lap. My brother inadvertently bought me a teak waste paper basket (I used one of his birthday or Christmas gifts). I found a huge teak armoire at a church rummage sale for like $60.00. It probably sold for over a thousand new. I'd find bowls, little teak animals (some Danish modern and collectible), teak bottle openers, cheese cutters, spoons, trays, larger cutting board type things, and all kinds of misc stuff, including many teak frames that I mostly have Mark Rothko prints or postcards in. I have tons of the bowls!

(Almost all of it by the way, maybe 98%, is used stuff I found at Goodwills and yard sales. I don't support chopping down wild teak forests to make trinkets and almost never buy a new teak item even though I think there's more farmed teak now.)

Aside from teak itself, I have discovered that I really like a lot of mid-century art, architecture and furnishings. But by now, it's kind of cooled off for me. I only buy something now and then, when I find something really cool and cheap. And small! My room is tiny and there's not much room left. I consider it a kind of art installation that's essentially done. I just tweak it a bit now and then.

Over the years I've had a bunch of crazy rooms. Sometimes plants everywhere, sometimes animals everywhere, or wall collages, or something else that strikes my fancy. I like lining my immediate surroundings with things I like and find comforting. There's an odd kind of art to it and I think it's a form I excel at, for what that's worth.

I like things that are solid, kind of thick, with rounded edges. I've never liked thin or fragile china, glass or household stuff. I always liked big round firm solid, sort of 70's style stuff. Teak fits this bill to a tee. It's super oily and solid, but it isn't very good for fine sculpture or detailed carving. It's usually made into just the kind of shapes and weights that I've always liked. Look around, you'll very rarely see anything made out of teak that you'd say was thin or fragile. There is such a thing but it's nowhere near the norm.

As to why I like stuff like this I'm not sure, but I think it has to do with a certain instability in my nervous system. My nerves, joints and connective tissue have always seemed to me to be kind of soft by nature, kind of tentative and a bit unsteady. I've learned to do all kinds of things that make me appear quite steady, graceful and coordinated, but none of them came easy at all. And they often require huge amounts of my brain's processing powers to execute.

Some of these things I've learned have become second nature, but most are not. The guitar, for instance, is still a real challenge for me. Especially if I try anything fancy at all. My right hand, my rhythm hand, has gotten very steady and solid rhythmically, but if I try to do anything that requires some finer selection of strings, it takes a lot of practice and concentration to do with any consistency at all. And I'm talking about things that most decent guitarists could figure out in 15 minutes and play flawlessly from then on.

So this kind of wobbly quality to my nervous system, I think has something to do with my attraction to very steady round solid objects. Whether this is an inborn trait of mine (my personal belief at the moment) or something that developed because of my early childhood, I do not know.

I think though, that this quality of teak and things teak-y is more responsible for my attraction than anything to do with my Dad per se. Although, I'm sure it's at least connected to my association with that desk and the 60's (a very exciting time where it suddenly seemed like virtually everything in the world was changing dramatically), and other positive things that might have been going on that year.

Like everything else about us, I think it's ultimately a complete mystery. All we have are ideas, guesses, theories, and hopefully a few shreds of evidence. I'm inclined to believe that I have a genetic predisposition to being more obsessive and more of a collector than most people. These are definitely traits that have survival value and I'm pretty confident that most of us have them. It's probable that I'm just cursed (or gifted!) with a greater predisposition.

I also believe that this thing about my nerves is genetic. I've delved into my body and its abilities pretty heavily for decades, so I think I know whereof I speak. People have said, "It's all in your mind." or, "You just need to practice more." But I live in this body all the time and have for over 50 years. I think by now I know more or less what I'm dealing with on the physical level. I know what it takes to do what I can do. I think this genetic unsteadiness underlies everything.

There are other areas where I was shaky, where I think it was more emotionally based, like being afraid to ask clerks for help when I was younger. I've dealt with and shaken off loads and loads of those kinds of patterns in my life. This is different. It has to do with my ability to aim for something and have my body do it. That's where I notice a distinct unsteadiness.

I also have always felt it in my voice. Even with voice training and the ability to sing pretty "big" if I want to, this underlying unsteadiness is always there. I feel it in my cells in a way that does not feel like a software issue at all. It feels hard wired at the factory. To counter this I think I'm attracted to things like Corningware mixing bowls, another thing I've got many of. I love to eat out of them. To me it's a totally satisfying container. But I have no fond or distinct family memories involving mixing bowls.

These are some of the angles I've explored but again I really don't know. I used to think everything was family but now I don't. Of course they have a big effect, but so do peer groups, media inputs, and genetics. I think now that most of our behaviors are a complex mixture of genetics and education, with genetics being generally hardware and education being generally software.

Would a psychoanalyst make something of a connection between my interest in teak and my father's desk? Yes, I think they would make something of the connection since that's what they do. And I can see and agree with that point of view myself. I also think it's at least partly genetic and I think it's also random since I didn't choose my genetics or my family. And I also think it's a totally unknowable mystery, worth considering, but not with a hope of solving.

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