A Lesson from The Antique Mall

I spent most of my day yesterday at the two side-by-side antique malls on Big Bend. It had been a while since I had been in either mall, perhaps far too long if you ask me. I really enjoy spending time there. Not necessarily to buy anything (although there was quite a bit there that I wish I had the space for), but just to discover things and to think. I love the feeling of being surrounded by old objects, but it’s not just that they are old…

If I just wanted to be surrounded by old shit, I could sit in my own basement for a few hours. But the appeal of the antique mall is partly in the fact that these things were other people’s things. Not artifacts of my life or my parents’ lives, but other people’s lives. The previous experiences that you are exposed to there are so much more diverse. It’s a smorgasbord of different histories that you can step into just by picking up any object.

And on top of that, there’s something really compelling and fascinating about the fact that the objects, regardless of what period in time they were most relevant, are all cluttered together. All of these disparate vestiges of life are juxtaposed, grouped together like time-traveling families of objects in little retro-nautical cubes. Each unique object next to another unique object, created during a unique span of time, used by a unique individual, with a unique experience. It’s a specific part of the 1970s co-mingling with a specific part of the 1890s, co-mingling with the now. You can’t recreate that environment without those objects. You couldn’t even go back in time and recreate it. It’s irreproducible in that way anywhere else in the world. It’s supremely unique.

That being said, the antique mall successfully compresses time and space. It’s a hauntological playground. Furniture, records, weird kitschy bits and bobbles, children’s books, toys and instruction manuals, lamps and table china… domestic artifacts of previous ‘modern’ times. There’s so much to touch and consider and ponder of any one object… who created you? What person loved you back then? And in what ways did they love you? As an object, what was your experience of that time like? And as an object, what is your experience of the present?

I’m currently going through a rough time emotionally, and something I frequently think about is dying. I’m convinced that I will and should die prematurely, and I’m afraid of living a long life. It’s not that I’m just trying to end some current problem. I’m just wanting to save myself from future problems. I’m legitimately afraid of what’s waiting for me later in life. My anxiety has progressed from fearing small scenes ahead, to fearing the entire show. I’m afraid of continuing to produce the levels of anxiety that I’m experiencing now. What will happen to me when more is at stake?

I’m afraid of what I see in my parents… two chronically anxious (my father) and depressed (my mother) individuals, who have weathered the times, weathered decades of seemingly endless anxiety and depression. Yet knowing that they’ve done this, they have the nerve to urge me to carry on. My current emotional trajectory looks an awful lot like theirs, and this scares me. I see the possibilities of where I’m headed, and they scare me. I’m simply afraid of carrying on.

This is why I’m drawn to the antique mall. The objects found there can teach us a lot about the art of persistence. The objects found there have weathered the times, have weathered the ego-annihilating transition from relevance to utter irrelevance. The objects found there are the ultimate examples, the shining beacons of what it means to keep going. But unlike my parents, I can’t readily detect how they’re hurting inside. I know that inanimate objects can’t think or feel. I know that they can’t experience anxiety or feel afraid of what time has in store for them. Still, I suspect and believe that they do have their own experience of the times. They have their own awareness of being used, or abused and later disused and diffused off into an antique mall. These objects have gathered together to share their experiences with one another, to continue in unison through the present, and to represent to us what it means to still be here through it all.

Unlike living individuals, they don’t have the option of dying. They will just endure until someone takes mercy on them and destroys them completely. They just have to carry on forever and ever until they disintegrate. These objects are the real troopers, the most steadfast time travelers. I find them so inspiring, and if I weren’t so bent up right now, I would strive to be more like them. I would strive to feel nothing, but still be aware. I would strive to persist.

In conclusion, three things that I admire most about the antique mall:

1. The diversity of objects and object origins found there, exposes me to diverse times, places and experiences

2. The juxtaposition of these objects creates unique temporal environments, irreproducible anywhere else

3. Artifacts remind me that persistence is possible, and integrity can be maintained

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