“I’m having the strongest feeling” — Toby’s father on hearing the Wiffenpoofs on The West Wing
“Flotsam and Jetsam” is a term that refers to stuff that gets carried along in the wake of a ship. That is, it’s stuff that breaks off or is thrown overboard but that gets sucked along in the wake of the ship, so that it only departs slowly. I’ve realized something today about flotsam and jetsam and life.
That is, as your life happens, things come into it. Some stay, some stay for a while and leave, and some leave right away. I guess it’s the same with people. but I was thinking about things. It first struck me this evening when I got out my guitar to play. My guitar (this one :-)) is a Martin OO-18 that I purchased sometime around 1980, which makes it pretty old for a guitar, though not for a Martin guitar. I decided for some reason not to play finger-style, but to use a flatpick. So I went to this little tin I’ve had forever (it once held cherry-flavored drops) and chose a pick.
Now, I have tried various picks. On electric guitars, I like them thick and heavy. On this small acoustic, though, there’s only one kind of pick I like. I bought a few of them, also around 1980, in a small guitar shop called The Podium, near the University of Minnesota’s East Bank campus. As I recall, they were sold as “carbon” picks or something like that. I have no idea what they’re made of. They’re oddly shaped, which has lead to everyone I show them to calling them “Star Trek” picks. They look like this:
The picture is clearly over-sized thanks to my scanner, and if you look closely, you’ll see that the pick is rounded near the tip–it used to be much less so. Anyway. I bought these because I had been playing super-light Jim Dunlap picks that looked almost like onion-skin paper, white, translucent, but they tended to break often. I was looking for a Cat Stevens sound, and these were thin and flexible, so I thought I’d give them a shot. I think they were .50 each, a lot for an individual pick in those days.
Anyway, I still have three, I may have bought more, but I don’t remember. I’ve had just the three that I still have for more than 25 years, I do know that much, and I have trouble using any other pick. These have lasted. They’re wearing on the edges, but whatever they’re made out of, they’ve survived. And I’ve kept track of them, because they’re great. I think they disappeared from The Podium after a few weeks, and I’ve never found them again. I ask at every music store I see, and that’s been a lot over the years. So I hang onto these, though they’re the sort of thing that you could easily lose without trying.
These stay with me by intention. They are precisely not flotsam and jetsam. If I lost even one of them, I would feel my life had somehow been measurably diminished. Silly, but there it is.
On the other hand: I was washing dishes this evening, and one was a plastic container that my wife had been keeping lentils in, but had emptied out when she made a batch of mulligatawny soup (mmmmmmm). Anyway, I picked up the container and recognized it from the tatters of label still attached as one that had contained honey we had bought through a neighborhood food coop (run out of our garage) when we lived in Schenectady, NY, in the 1990s. We must have bought it sometime around ’97 or so, when I was working for the software department in an engineering company down on Erie Blvd., Power Technologies, Inc.
Now, my life would not be diminished if I never saw that container again, but it’s like an old friend when it turns up. It reminds me of the house we had there with its basement that I used for woodworking, its artisian stream (yep, a small trickle ran right under the basement slab), and its special fruit room, a small room in the Northwest corner of the basement lined with shelves that we filled with all kind of good food, including jars and jars of honey. Good times. That was the first house we owned, an older bungalow with a nice front porch and hot water radiators. I miss it, and the honey container brought it back to me. I didn’t include that container in my life deliberately, and I probably won’t even notice when it gets thrown away somewhere down the line, but by bobbing up in my wake, it reminded me of things that were. It’s welcome to float along as long as it wants to.
The things we keep, the things we bind to ourselves, like my picks, they’re important. But the things that just pop up, they’re important too. Don’t neglect them, and don’t be too speedy to dump everything that attaches to you. If you’re lucky, you might find a pleasant surprise in all that flotsam and jetsam.
Funny, but for all the effort I put into keeping those picks, they don’t have any more memories attached to them than does the honey jar.