Teaching and Learning and Caring Blog
EL PASO – Whether we know it or not, we are curating our lives each and every day. Curators are caretakers and interpreters of things. We have to decide what things have meaning and what meaning they have. We don’t have room for everything in our lives so the things we no longer need or care for are disposed of in some way. We can make a mistake and throw something out that we wish we hadn’t, but too often, we keep things for no good reason and become weighted down by them.
When we die, someone else decides about the things we decided to keep. Unless that person is an historian or archeologist or packrat, expect that most everything will be displaced in some way or another.
The word curator derives from the Latin word curare meaning to take care. However, there is another curare, a paralyzing poison delivered by indigenous peoples of South America using an arrow or blow dart. This curare derives from the Carib language. These fortuitous homonyms (or homographs) pretty much sum things up: we can either take care of them or be paralyzed by them.
When I was young, my grandparents ran an old hotel and several rental units. The cousins’ job was to haul furniture from one place to another, help clean, sort, restock, store. We drove the old pickup and loaded and unloaded things. My grandmother had cigar boxes full of pocket knives and other boxes filled with things that people left behind them when they left… things she kept rather than threw out. She was the curator of these items, told us where to put them or doled them out to us or others.
Recently, I have been feeling like I did when I was a teen and we joked about starting our own moving company. In anticipation of renting or selling one property and acquiring another, and trading spaces with my daughter, I have been sorting my own items and some of my children’s, deciding what to keep, what to throw or give away. My daughter and I are switching bedrooms. She needs more closet space than I do. We made several trips to Savers, to the Homeless Shelter, to the Child Crisis Center. There were enough stuffed animals in the house to stock a zoo gift shop. I recycled paper from my son’s second grade and his high school debate team. Moving to a new room, a new house, or a new job gives us an opportunity to actually think about what we have accumulated and evaluate its significance to our past, and to our future.
Using the word curate reminds us that our lives are like art. Both Fyodor Dostoevsky and Oscar Wilde have commented on the relationship. Dostoevsky believed: “At first, art imitates life. Then life will imitate art. Then life will find its very existence from the arts.” Oscar Wilde suggested that life imitated art more than art imitated life. But each writer implicitly emphasizes the symbiotic relationship between the two.
If we think back on the homonyms and their disparate meanings, we realize that even without momentous changes in our lives, we choose every day what we will keep from the past that we have accumulated and we also choose what significance or meaning we place on them, whether they be animate or inanimate things or something less tangible like memories or dreams. The curare of the second meaning should give us pause, and help us recognize the real danger of holding onto things that are poisonous in our lives. To care for what we do decide to keep is equally important.
The fortune on my tea bag this morning suggested another homonym on this same theme. It said: “Live light, travel light, be the light, spread the light.”