Time Flies

Pam’s Pictorama Post: It has been a rough year and one that has lead to some reflection as I hit our anniversary today. Kim and I aren’t big on ceremony around it; we generally recognize it without much fanfare – usually an exchange of small toys, a card, perhaps a day out together just knocking around as I think today will be as we look 18 years in the eye. Unlike today, October 14, 2000 was an unseasonably warm day. However, like this year, the prior weekend had produced a hurricane or at least tropical storm, leaving me relieved that we had changed our minds from a fanciful outdoor ceremony in Central Park over Columbus Day weekend which had been my original thought. It would have been a bit of a disaster. For the record, today is a crisp, chilly typical mid-October day in New York, although the trees have yet to change color since the cold snap is only recently upon us.

I am always the first to say I had a bad attitude about marriage for a long time. Frankly, if you weren’t going to have kids I couldn’t really see anything in it. It just seemed like another one of those society created conventions that people felt the need to go along with. I cheerfully crossed it off my list. I can’t speak for Kim, but I have to assume it hadn’t made it to the top of his list either since he is considerably older and hadn’t given it a try yet. He did bring it up early on in our relationship, but I suggested he stop talking about it.

Even when I began to contemplate it seriously it was also to accommodate society – ensuring that Kim had health insurance. My employer, the Metropolitan Museum, informed me that nothing short of marriage would do that. So marry we would. (I like to say that I loved Kim enough to want him to have health insurance – really, is there a better way to say I love you?) The other factor was that my sister was in the latter stages of fighting an almost decade long battle with breast cancer (one she would lose a year later), and I did have the revelation that if I wanted her to be at my wedding and well enough to enjoy it this wasn’t something I could put off indefinitely.

Perhaps it was all these things, but it came together one day I was sitting at my desk and an email newsletter I used to get from a Buddhist publishing company hit my inbox. There was an extensive quote from the Dalai Lama about not deferring happiness – in essence, that there is a tendency to defer even those things that will make us happy, and that we had to quite simply have to make space for them in our lives if we wished to pursue happiness.

I’m not sure I can do the full equation of why it suddenly hit me that this was exactly what I was doing about getting married – thinking we would do it eventually, in the vague future, maybe after this or that. The switch flipped and I changed my course immediately. Kim and I had been together for almost six years and had been living together in this studio apartment for almost all of them. As my sister Loren said when I told her about our impending nuptials, if we could live in one room together for this long we were most likely compatible.

Obviously I can only speak for myself, but I was surprised that being married really was different than living together. I felt it immediately. The wedding rings – a symbol I had somehow dreaded (feminist writings about them being like the ring in a cow’s nose ran in a loop through my head) – were somehow more like matching secret decoder rings we shared. In many ways, marriage was like forming a corporation – we became a team in a way I had not imagined. On the very rare occasion (I can only think of one) when we have a knockdown drag out fight, the marital bonds give important pause about the dissolution of the relationship. Most importantly it greatly amplified a feeling that I had of knowing I had a person on my team no matter what. We wholeheartedly accepted and embraced the role of champion of the other.

Ironically in a way I have become a great fan of marriage, yet I can’t help the nagging qualification that I consider it a small miracle I found someone as splendidly suited to me as Kim. I do believe that when I considered marriage in the abstract I never allowed myself to imagine that I would find someone as endlessly interesting as I find Kim. (Essentially, if I had known I was going to get to marry Kim Deitch I may have had a better attitude about the whole thing.) I have been gloriously lucky enough to find someone with whom the never-ending conversation of married life remains always fascinating. Yes, marriage like anything worthwhile is undeniably hard work, but I easily consider it one of the best decisions I ever made. Happy anniversary Kim!

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Camperdown

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Last night Kim and I made a trip off the island (Manhattan island that is) to attend the wedding celebration of a much beloved colleague of mine, Morgan Bakerman, to her splendid significant other, Ben Brown. The elegant and jubilant party was held at the Prospect Park Boathouse. The Boathouse turns out to be quite near the park Zoo, which Kim and I had just explored a few weeks ago on a mission to research it for a possible story idea, however we had not made it down and around the correct corner to see it on that trip. Therefore, we were not aware of the truly extraordinary, ancient and magnificent (and famous) Camperdown Elm that graces the entrance.

This behemoth was evidently planted back in 1872, a gift to the park from a Mr. A. Burgess, a florist from Brooklyn. The Camperdown Elm was discovered in Scotland less than 30 years before our Brooklyn tree was planted. It was discovered by the Earl of Camperdown who then reproduced it through cuttings. (This tree is only reproduced through grafting – it does not reproduce by seed.) The Brooklyn Elm was celebrated in the poem by Pulitzer Prize winning poet, Marianne Moore, written in 1967 and published in The New Yorker. The publication of The Camperdown Elm was said to have rescued the tree at a time when a financial commitment was needed and the park was also in both disrepair and financial straits. The tree whose innate, quirky persistent desire to grow horizontally – like a giant bonsai of its own making – requires propping in places as gravity fights back, especially in one so old and clearly needs a certain amount of care and attention to survive.

This trip to Prospect Park reminded me that Olmsted and Vaux were playing their A game when they designed it – applying lessons learned from their initial foray designing Central Park. It is interesting to see their sensibility applied to this slightly different endeavor – the trademark arches in place, decorative tiles brightening interiors. The park is cared for by a conservancy group, but not with the precision of Central Park and this gives the visitor a different feel. Slightly overgrown, although also remarkably well-preserved in places. Below are some photos from last night – including a bonus photo of us!

As some of you might know, I worked for the Central Park Conservancy for two years and had an extraordinary opportunity to get to know that park very well. I acquired small amounts of knowledge about trees and plants – I do not have a great memory for those kinds of names and information. However, the Camperdown always fascinated me. Back in 2000 when I worked for the park, the Camperdown Elm near the East 72nd Street playground was still a very small young tree and I loved the quirky, downturned “weeping” branches.

I was told that if you plant a Camperdown Elm you were making a commitment to future generations – they are very slow growing, but can be extremely long-lived. You are unlikely to live to see it to true maturity. (This is of course true of all trees to some greater or lesser degree, but the extremity of this commitment is illustrated by our Brooklyn Camperdown example.) The Central Park one, shown below perhaps a bit larger than it was when I worked there, was a favorite of mine. Sadly Camperdown Elms are vulnerable to the dreaded Dutch Elm disease that has run rampant through the United States, killing generations of these beautiful and much loved trees before their time. So a close eye was kept on this little Camperdown, and it has responded to its care  and nurturing by growing into early maturity. I still route myself past it occasionally, making the long walk to work in Columbus Circle from Yorkville, still taking an ongoing somewhat maternal interest in it.

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Time is Flying

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Who among us has not been smacked by time running away on us? The image of the hourglass with the sand running low comes to mind – or if you are a Kim Deitch fan, maybe a bossy clock with a human face glowering while he stands over you, urging you on. This postcard features the tailless cats from the Isle of Man, the origin of this card, which was posted on May 15, 1909 – or so is my best read on the stamp cancellation. It was mailed from a place called Douglas and to a Miss H. Woodrich, 15 Manchester Road, Southport. The sender of the card wrote in pencil which has faded, but I can read the following, These are Manx cats without tails. What do you think of them, ask Libs. Hope you are well & jolly. Love to all. Sadly, the sender’s name is obscured.

I liked the exposed claw paws on these kitty fellows as well as their action reaction to the bits being thrown at them. (Each one getting conked on the head with a different item!) I especially like the one across from what turns out to be the coat of arms for the Isle of Man, soon to be hit with a flying slipper. The top of the card reads Time is flying (it struck me in flight), I’ve nothing of a ‘tale’ but hope you keep all right. Then, more subtle but humorous is the translation around the coat of arms which is, whithersoever you throw it, it will stand. (This translation from our friends at Wikipedia. It should also be noted that this is an older version of the coat of arms which was changed in 1994, according to the same source.)

A number of years ago, after my sister died, I decided that I wanted to take a less adversarial approach to time which suddenly seemed out of control, and attempt to consciously slow it down. As someone who has meditated I felt that there may be mindful activities which allow us to slow time down – or I guess more precisely to experience it differently.

I chose to learn how to make daguerreotypes – an early photographic process that is fairly complicated to replicate today. Because of the exposure time with the subject (or sitter) it literally meant recording time in a certain way. From that I started making other kinds of photographs, both early process and silver gelatin prints ultimately as well. I enjoyed it and it served me well for many years, the taking of the photos and then the slow repetitive process with a creative edge that meant I was also mentally alert. I stopped for a myriad of reasons I will not go into right now, but it has been on my mind lately. Not necessarily to go back to making photos, but an activity that will serve the same purpose. Working out at the gym has served this function to some degree in recent years, and I am considering swimming. I am not sure, but my guess is you, Pictorama readers, will be among the first to know.

Who Is Pam Butler

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today’s post is from the appendix of Kim’s upcoming book, Reincarnation Stories, and is a rare Pictorama husband and wife co-production. I wrote it, several months back, although some of you have heard the story before. Enjoy!

Reincarnation

It begins one day, simply enough, riding on the subway. Kim forgot to bring something to read and he picked up a free newsletter for the Learning Annex – cheesy adult “courses” taught by reality tv show stars and people promising you that you too can make a killing in NY real estate. (Yep, I think Donald Trump was advertised in one of those – who could have guessed?) I read over his shoulder. Semi-seriously he announced that there was a course in past life regression that he thought he would take – he’d always had a story in mind around reincarnation and maybe it would be a good jumping off point. So I flippantly said I’d do it too. And just like that, we decided to phone and make a reservation.

What I didn’t tell Kim was that I had been approached about past life regression before and the thought had sort of terrified me. I suffer from a potentially debilitating form of arthritis and more than once it had been suggested to me that I might try to go into my past lives to see what might have caused it. Well, I figured if I had either done something so awful in my past life, or even worse, had some dreadful injury that shook my joints to this day, that I sure as heck didn’t want to know about it and relive it. Still, this was the Learning Annex – no need to take it seriously. It would be fun to do with Kim and if he was going to a past-life regression course I sure wasn’t going to miss it.

As it happened, the day we were scheduled to attend in the early evening turned out to be a complicated one for me. It was a sunny and beautiful day as I remember, I want to say spring rather than full on summer. I was working for the Central Park Conservancy at the time, but had taken part of the day off to attend the funeral of Lydia Mananara, a woman I had worked with at the Metropolitan Museum for many years. She wasn’t much older than me and had died of breast cancer. I had cared for her cat, a lovely plushy long haired tabby-stripe, while she was in Italy seeking alternative treatment or perhaps just spending time with family there, over the course of many weeks. After the funeral there was a reception at the Met where I saw former colleagues and met family and friends of hers I had not known. It was a strange moment of displacement having worked there for so long and being back for what may have been the first time since leaving.

That evening after work, Kim and I went down to Union Square and to the address of what appeared to be some sort of elementary school. I remember thinking that this was turning into one very long day, and we trudged into a classroom with table desks pushed together to form a large U. There were about ten people in the room and they were as varied as the human content of any subway car on a given morning commute, a few young, some older, generally nondescript. The course instructor entered and he too was pretty generic, middle aged and pale. He started out by telling his story.

Seems that when he was a kid somewhere in the Midwest, a visiting hypnotist had come to town and he had gone to see him perform. In what he’d later realize was an unusual vulnerability to hypnosis, he slipped easily into that state and, jarringly into a past life. Frankly I can’t remember if he was actually the subject of the hypnotist or if he fell into the influence from the audience – the latter seems unlikely. Anyway, he went on to describe, in fairly horrific detail, being a small child running for safety to a root cellar from where he spied his family of prairie settlers terribly murdered by Indians. Of course he had no idea why he experienced it, but a number of years later he took the opportunity to be hypnotized again and this time in his past life he was an adult, hidden away on a mountainside witnessing the slaughter of other settlers by Indians once again. This time he understood it to be a past life and devoted future time and energy to developing the skill to hypnotize himself and travel back to past incarnations.

He ended his presentation and offered that he would now help us all slip back into our own past. He turned the lights down, but traffic thrummed out the window and florescent lights hummed in the hall. At first quieting my mind and focusing seemed unlikely. Still, I had developed some meditation chops and it didn’t take very much for me to still my mind into the desired quiet before going to a “safe place” and then rolling back into something else.

He “woke” us up to wherever we had landed in our minds and asked us to look around. I was in the desert, a barefoot and nearly naked young man in my teens. The soil beneath my feet was sandy but hard and a reddish color. The teacher’s voice instructed us to take note of the year (I want to say it was the 1880’s, but I have trouble remembering that more precisely now) and things like who was President, to take note of our surroundings. I don’t know who was President and at first I thought I was in Tibet – a place I had been twice and had a great affinity for – but I gradually became aware that I was in the American West instead – and that I was a young Native American male. I was aware of being absolutely dirt poor, hungry, and not educated. I was essentially a dumb young kid.

His voice now guided me to go to the day I died and to take note of how I died. Seems like I was killed in a stupid fight with another kid – I don’t know over what. He told us to take care now to apologize to anyone we had hurt. I found myself apologizing to the guy who killed me (maybe I killed him as well?), and then I apologized to my mother and my grandmother. I had left them alone when I died and it had been my responsibility to take care of them. I felt bad about it all, but in a dispassionate sort of way. The instructor now guided us out of the past and into the current moment. He turned the lights on and suggested a break before we spoke about our experiences. Kim and I found a water fountain.

Kim, “Man, that was a waste. Nothing!” I looked at him surprised, “Really?” and quickly told him about my experience. We both wondered if somehow the teacher’s own experiences related with Indians had influenced my subconscious. I didn’t know about that, but I did know I wasn’t looking forward to telling him that I had been an Indian!

After the break we sat back down in our seats. Kim and I were seated about halfway around. Like Kim, not everyone had experienced anything and only two other stories stood out for me that day which I remember. One was a not especially cogent tale of another planet and this stayed with me because the instructor didn’t seem to find that unusual and said it happens – other planets. The other was quite moving. There was a young, attractive woman in her twenties who had found herself a bench at a bus stop near Union Square, but in the 1940’s. It was July and very hot and she was 9 months pregnant. She died in childbirth later, I think the same day. I wonder to this day what brought her to the Learning Annex that evening to have that experience.

As for me, I reported in the most straightforward way possible what I had seen and experienced. It certainly isn’t the past I would have imagined for myself and yet that is what makes it compelling. As someone who has long been interested in Buddhism I can easily accept the concept of a past life, one in an ongoing parade – hopefully ultimately toward enlightenment. The idea of even a brief window onto a self that was so different – impoverished Native American teenager who gets himself killed in a fight over something so stupid that it, unlike these other simple facts, was not indelible through time. Only that I had been young and stupid and gotten myself killed when I should have been taking care of my mother and grandmother remained. I guess the good news is that I got a bit smarter over subsequent lives. The instructor did give me a bit of a fish eye – or maybe I imagined it. But I don’t think my former self was doing any of the killing he had witnessed.

I am not sure Kim believes that my experience wasn’t entirely one of suggestion placed in my mind by the instructor’s own stories. It was a day when I had already had my share of contemplating mortality and it is more than possible that the experience was a combination of what I brought to the table so to speak. All I can say is that bit of time in another body seemed real and different, and the poignant moment of apology one that had been a long time coming.

On that day I certainly didn’t get any insights into the arthritis that troubles me, and it didn’t lead to a desire to do it again and learn about other lives, if that is indeed possible. Instead it left me with a strange sort of shiny spot in my memory. As if out of the dim past one small bit has been brought into high relief. Real or not, I keep it there like a talisman, a lucky penny, dropped from the past into my lap here in the future.

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Comics

Pam’s Pictorama Post: Today my mind is on comics – the ones of my childhood. Recently I realized that oddly enough, I have a distinct memory of my father reading me Peanuts, but no other strip – surely he didn’t literally only read that one and let the others go begging, but that is what I remember. I assume it started when I was very small and couldn’t read at all, but I do recall that as my nascent skills evolved, I was able to read along with him. Peanuts was a pretty easy read, although Nancy, as we all know, was the easiest and the first you could puzzle out on your own – often no words at all. (The miracle of story telling solely through pictures – the silent film of comics.)

However, for all of that, it is Peanuts that I associate with my Dad and Sunday morning childhood. (Saturday morning was Roadrunner cartoons, but we will discuss that another time perhaps.) I have chosen a Sunday strip from 1970 below, which would have put me at age six. It is one featuring Snoopy and Lucy and somehow I remember those as the ones he was partial to.

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As a career long cameraman for ABC News, my father traveled constantly and often for long periods, so I know it certainly wasn’t something we did every Sunday and, although I certainly remember my mother and father both reading me bedtime stories, I never remember Mom reading me comics from the paper, nor did I ask her to. Presumably my sister Loren was right in there as well, although I don’t remember that either, and perhaps with a two year age difference between us it mostly really was me alone, sitting on my Dad’s lap and looking at the comics. (Apologies to my brother Edward, but at almost seven years younger he was not yet in the picture.) Dad would read the strips and we would have a good chuckle. Perhaps at my insistence, in homage to the strip our first cat, a cow-spotty black and white one, was christened Snoopy.

Many years later, when I was launched into my first job at the Metropolitan Museum and living a commuting distance away from home, fax machines were suddenly in vogue. My father developed the habit of faxing me the strip Mutts. I had briefly met Patrick McDonnell in the mid-90’s (as well as the cat and dog who appear to have inspired the strip) and he seemed like an extraordinarily nice person. I loved the strip which was in its infancy. It did remind me just a bit of Peanuts and it was easy to see why it appealed to my father too, although I don’t think we ever discussed that aspect of it. I did not get a daily paper with comics and so, out of the blue, my father initiated a comprehensive campaign of faxing them to me, several on a page, a couple of times a week. I bought a few of the compilations and shared those with Dad, but I think he liked the dailiness of finding them in the paper and the self-appointed task of sending them.

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I was reminded of all of this recently when, on my trip to London in February, I found myself warming up and drying off in a comic book store near Leicester Square. After tending to the family business of checking on the Kim Deitch selection (yes, I do that in comic book stores Kim – you probably didn’t know that, but you do now) I found some Mutts and Peanuts compilations and was briefly tempted to buy one for Dad. After coming to my senses and realizing that they were of course more easily bought at home without stuffing them into and already bursting suitcase, I did not. However for a lovely moment I was transported back to those years of sharing comics with Dad.

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Waxing and Wain-ing; the Conclusion of Our Story

 

 

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Pam’s Pictorama Post: For those of you who have been following this tale, today I wrap up the Louis Wain story with this entry (for now anyway – I feel more collecting coming on in this area now that I have started, but more of that to follow) with an interesting tributary of his work, the ceramics. I am going to break a Pictorama ground rule today, and please know that none of the glorious items I am abundantly illustrating today’s post with is in my collection – they are pulled entirely from the internet, many from previous auction posts. A girl can dream however!

For some background, although I had not collected Louis Wain as such I had, of course, long been a fan of his whacky cat imagery, mostly via postcard reprints of his work at its height, made widely available in a reproduced postcard line I remember as being available in the 1980’s. While I did not collect them as such, I did purchase them for use (yes, I actually used to routinely send postcards in those days) and at one time certainly had a number of them lying around.

So when I met Kim and cat item collecting became a topic of conversation between us, I certainly knew who he was talking about when he intrigued and beguiled me with Louis Wain’s bio of descending into insanity, cat illustrations becoming wilder and more abstract over time. But then, being Kim, he topped it off with another amazing story. As Wain’s cats became less realistic, at one point they even became Cubist, executed in the form of sculptures or vases. And, furthermore, that many if not virtually all were lost in shipwreck! There was something about them being Czech. (He may have said that they were on the Lusitania when it was lost, but don’t hold me to that.)

Now folks, this was in the days before the internet and Google in the palm of our hands in the form of what we now think of as a phone. It was a marvelous story. My imagination raced crazily with mental images of what these might have looked like. Oh my! The tragedy of a splendid cat bounty that was never to be known! I fantasized that some day the wreck would be raised and somehow many of the objects recovered whole, auctioned and made public. (Made mine…) The story has lived vividly in my head for decades.

So finally, the other day as I began gathering information for the first two parts of this post, at long last I Googled both the story and the ceramics. I was not disappointed. To my great fascination, a fair number of these ceramics exist, and while very expensive, are collected today. In addition to cats, there are (sans explanation) dogs and pigs – and these do not disappoint. While I may have imagined these sculptures one degree more abstract, and for some reason not so brightly colored, I was pretty close with my mental image of them. They are however, if anything, better than I imagined.

 

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And, it turns out that the story of the shipwreck and loss of a significant shipment of them from England is also true – although not on the Lusitania and they were produced both in Great Britain and Czechoslovakia, in the teens. Fakes have evidently plagued the market at various times – meanwhile, I am sure I wouldn’t mind owning one of those either. One article I read said that had the shipment reached the United States (which, unlike Britain, had a discerning consumers who, even at the time, had a voracious appetite for these particular offbeat items) it might have staved off, or at least delayed, the impoverishment Wain suffered at the end of his life, ending sadly in asylums, but still producing cat drawings. It is all a very Deitchian tale, with only slight embellishment, and now you know one of the many reasons why being married to Kim Deitch is so much fun.

Meanwhile, those of you who know me are wondering by this time, how could price alone have swayed me from adding Louis Wain to my routine collecting? After all, I am the woman who has brought you my indulgences ranging from rare Aesop Fable dolls (Aesop Fable Doll – the Prize!) to Mickey Mouse toys the size of a toddler (Big Mickey) that I have crammed into our tiny apartment and paid admittedly obscene amounts of money for over time. At this point, I sheepishly admit that has been a foolish kernel of jealousy that has been at the root of it these many years.

I remind long-time Pictorama readers of an early post, Mine, all mine…at long last, where I gloried in obtaining a long sought after photo of the Aesop Fable dolls I adore. A copy of that photo had passed through Kim’s hands to a woman he lived with for a number of years and it gnawed gently at the back of my brain for years until I acquired my own copy. The same former girlfriend of Kim’s also collected Louis Wain items, primarily postcards. He mentioned this casually, early into our relationship, probably as a part of the broader Louis Wain tale. Kim had in fact purchased one or two of the original postcards for her as gifts over time. While admittedly, this seems a bit embarrassing and ridiculous as my adored Mr. Deitch and I are well into our second decade together, somehow I did not wish to have him associate her with my collecting. Then I guess I just never got around to lifting the prohibition and purchasing Louis Wain until this recent trip to London. Petty jealousy is like that and now I realize how silly that is – and will let the Louis Wain buying begin at long last.

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Tiny Toy Felix Fiesta

Pam’s Pictorama Toy Post: I will blame this purchase on my travel too as I saw these and put a bid in while I was away and won. Pictorama readers know I have a uncomfortable relationship with celluloid – it is so fragile! This has been documented in the past posts, Fear of CelluloidHappy Life Toy and most recently in Ding Dong Kitty. Nonetheless, I bid on these on a whim – a single one was being sold close to these three, I figured why not bid on the three at the same amount as I would one, and here we are. (Total Pam logic on that one.)

They are identical except one still sports his tiny Felix copyright Pat Sullivan tag on the sole of his foot. Unlike yesterday’s Felix-es, these do not stand independently. One has a tiny hole in the bottom of his foot, but otherwise they are in remarkably good shape with no dents. An indication that they were produced in Japan is embossed on each if you look closely. The strange almost non-existent weight of them somehow brings a visceral sense memory of holding such toys as a child.

Felix foot photo

Tag on Felix’s foot, collection Pams-Pictorama.com

 

As mentioned above, I have already opined on the frail nature of these items and my wonderment on how something so breakable, an inexpensive toy a child would have played with, can make it through some many decades (blasting toward the century mark) relatively unscathed. It is amazing – and probably a credit to mass distribution in part. I would get the same feeling when at the Met I looked at the rare piece of Roman glass which somehow made it down through time unscathed – I mean, I can barely keep glasses in our apartment un-chipped or ultimately smashed, especially with the kitties. Those items somehow survived not only household pets and drunken guests, but fires, earthquakes and wars. Fascinating.

I worry sometimes about whether I am the best steward for certain items. I do not collect what I really feel I cannot care for, keeping china to a minimum for example; paper mache gives me pause occasionally. Those who have visited Deitch Studio know that this is far from being a glass cabinet-ed, dust free facility. Toys are actually pretty much stacked around us, tumbling (especially with the help of cats) onto the bed with some regularity. Somehow we co-exist, the collection and us sentient beings, but as this is a single room I do wonder about the ultimate tipping point. However, for now, these Felix toys are tiny even if there are three of them, and they live quietly on a shelf propped up by a mechanical mouse, in front of a clutch of film books Kim requires access to only occasionally.