A Sad Little Story of Stuff Getting Lost Before It Had a Chance To Get Used Up

The other week, I decided to have a table at the downtown farmers’ market, selling my books. I sold a few copies and had fun talking with people. The morning was a success in a larger sense too, as I created a setup that was visually appealing, yet lightweight and portable such that I could transport it on foot by pulling my little wagon cart over the bridge, a distance of a little over a mile from my house to the market.

In recent times, I’ve begun personalizing each copy of the book by doing custom doodles in colored pencil and ink; no two covers are visually identical. So I had, with me as part of my market setup, my little “mobile art kit”: a squareish compact canvas shoulder-bag containing a set of ink pens and a small set of colored pencils, plus a Rapidograph pen or two. The mobile art kit also had a slim sketchbook, about 5 x 8 inches, that fit into the bag nicely with the other supplies.

The market finishes at noon. And there was a downtown “Wine Walk” starting at 1. Rather than run home at a brisk pace to drop off the wagon and run back in time for the Wine Walk, I just stayed downtown and pulled my little wagon with me for the duration of the afternoon. It was a fresh, sunlit afternoon full of light conversations with friends and acquaintances. My little wagon was easily kept out of the way; at each stop I’d tuck it neatly near a planter or something so it didn’t impede traffic on the sidewalk.

Everything was fine … until, after I got back home, I noticed my little black canvas art bag was gone. Had it fallen off my wagon? Had someone grabbed it thinking it was a purse full of money and credit cards? Whichever, the bag was gone.

I tried calling around to a few of the galleries, vintage shops, and other places that had been stops on the Wine Walk, but my bag was not found. I felt very sad and guilty, that I had been so careless with my sweet little “field kit” that allowed me to make art on the go. My tools and supplies, which had accompanied me on buses and trains and Craigslist rides from Texas to Florida, deserved more care than I gave them that giggly wine-buzzed afternoon.

The sketchbook only had a few pages filled. Interesting timing it was. A couple of days before, I’d been served up a video in my TikTok feed, in which a young artist with a sweet manner was telling fellow artists “You are worthy of your good art supplies! Use them!” I realized at that moment that I needed to use my sketchbook and stop saving it for perfect wonderful drawings. So, just a couple of days before my bag vanished, I set up a still life of two empty beer cans that happened to be sitting in my garage-studio. I crushed the cans, arranged them in an interesting way, and drew them. I was happy with the process and the feeling and the result. And was so excited about making more sketches instead of hoarding the little sketchbook (that I had had for, I swear, 10 years already).

I realized that my sadness at losing the bag was mainly about not having used up my supplies, to their fullest. All I could do was hope that someone got the bag and ended up using the supplies. That thought gave me some consolation.

And to be clear: I do still have plenty of drawing supplies. No markers — those were in the bag, in their beautiful sleek flat tin that kept them stored so nicely — but I have my huge tub of colored pencils, and my bottles of colored inks. And Rapidographs galore. I have made a pledge to purchase or acquire no more new art supplies. Should I decide at some point to acquire more colored markers, for example, they need to be used rather than new. (If they are new but come to me via a garage sale or house cleanout job or something, that’d be OK; I won’t feel I’ve violated the spirit and intent of the pledge.)

The bag had on its main zipper a fancy little zipper-pull that I had made out of found objects: a flat brass-colored circle full of holes, onto which I had wired a sparkly round bright-pink earring or pin.

The bag itself was already old when I got it sometime back around 2010: Someone’s discard, still in good shape. And it was still in good shape the day I lost it.

I may have mentioned that I do housecleaning gigs here and there. My favorite types of jobs are ones where a house is being cleaned out. It’s sad, because usually the house is being cleaned out because its owners have died or had to move to a nursing home or something. But still I find deep meaning and satisfaction in those jobs, because they are very challenging, and because we do our best to find homes for the stuff we run across that’s still good. (Most of the time, we are allowed to take unwanted stuff as part of our pay for the job.) The saddest stuff is clothing still with the tags on; pads and pads of paper that have never even had one page used; boxes and boxes of pens unopened — that kind of thing.

In everyday life, running out of stuff can be inconvenient. Like when I start whipping up some pancakes or bread only to realize I’ve got no flour (the tub I thought I’d been using for flour turned out to be sugar). We try to engineer our lives so we’re always well-stocked with backup stuff so we don’t run out at inconvenient times.

Obviously in affluent industrialized societies, the “backup” reflex has a chance to run way amok.

In permaculture design, one of the principles is “stocking”: keeping stuff in appropriate quantities — a suitable amount, no less and no more — and remembering that you have it, and remembering where it is stored. (The second part, in italics, is just as important as the first. If we don’t remember we have something, or don’t remember where it is stored, it’s pretty much the same as not having it at all.) If this “stocking” principle were easy and a widely mastered skill in our hyper-affluent, stuff-glutted society, there’d be a lot less call for house cleanout jobs. And there would be way fewer new storage units being built, chewing up forests and wetlands.

I have a couple more little sketchbooks stashed in my closet. I’ve had them for years. Most with hardly any pages filled. I’m going, I just now decided, to make myself a new little “field kit” out of canvas and other stuff I surely have lying around out in the garage, and put a few pens and things and a sketchbook in there.

Is there a hobby or interest you haven’t been allowing yourself time to do? Whatever it is, allow yourself to do some today if you can! Say it’s fishing and you don’t have time to go fishing today, you can still spend time sorting your supplies and planning to go.