Santuario

Whenever I’m in love, I accumulate like a fiend. A shell from our first date, a pile of safety glass I found with you, a shirt you made for me, miscellaneous junk that somehow elevates itself to the status of an icon, a talisman to another time. It’s a compulsion, like if I don’t snatch as many mementos as possible, I won’t be able to advance to the next level and my beloved will move on without me. It doesn’t even have to be love for a person – when I was in love with swimming, I collected an entire drawer full of competition results and ribbons to hold us together.

I kept that drawer long after I stopped swimming. It festered in my room like a wound, but I couldn’t get rid of it because all that stuff had become a huge part of who I was. There were 15 years of my life in there—more time than I had ever spent on anything. Throwing it away seemed like throwing all that time away too, and I couldn’t do that. I no longer swam, I didn’t want to swim, I didn’t particularly even like swimming, but I used to love it, really love it, and that, in some way, still mattered.

Of course, there was no shortage of generic wisdoms to point me in the other direction—if you love it, let it go; if it doesn’t bring you joy, get rid of it; attachment is the root of suffering; etc. I knew I should let go of all that emotional baggage, but I couldn’t conceive of how. It was too important to put in a trash bag, not useful enough to go to Goodwill, not relevant enough to be a gift. I couldn’t bring myself to cut it up either, so I could make some kind of collage or sculpture out of it. It was too much pressure to use materials so precious, and after all, crafting that time into an art project would only make one more thing I couldn’t get rid of.

But that was just an excuse. I had this unsubstantiated conviction that maintaining my devotion to swimming, even if it was only in the form of a junk drawer, would somehow keep that feeling of love alive. Maybe I’ll go through it one day and remember all the good times, I’d think to myself. Maybe I’ll even love it again. But I never did. I never even wanted to. All that nostalgic stuff, mementos from something I didn’t even miss, had turned into a drawer of frustration and agony over the fact that my time, love, and commitment were gone. All those reminders I had collected were just vessels to assuage the anxiety I had over giving so much of myself to something without the assurance that my love would last.

But the truth of the matter is that losing swimming made room for so many other things: I fell in love with water polo, my first romantic partner, my friends. The love I had for swimming hadn’t disappeared; it had just transitioned into love for other things. It’s the same with people, friends, and lovers. When it finally comes time to call it quits, there’s an amazing opportunity to find all the new things you’ll love next. After an inevitable mourning period, that is.

So I would like to cordially invite you, dear reader, to come together with the other loving collectors in Providence for a celebratory purge—Santuario. Santuario is a participatory installation at the Granoff Center for the Creative Arts appearing in November. Its purpose it to bring closure by providing a safe resting place for your meaningful items and a medium to embrace the uncertainty of the future. If collecting is not your style, the space also provides notecards for confessional healing as well as a generally therapeutic ethos for less tangible wounds. My hope is that by cleaning out those old loves, accepting their important place in the past but not the present, we will be able to move forward lighter, freer, and more open to unexpectedly good things that come our way.

Before you come, send two pictures of your hands—one clasped and the other open— to rica_maestas@brown.edu with a description of what you plan to let go. If you would like, the clasped hands image and the story will be featured on the project Instagram, @the_santuario_project. Once the installation is underway, the open hands will be projected above the objects as a celebration of letting go.

The opening will correspond with the November 2 anthology graduate conference at the Granoff at 7 p.m. , during which I will  talk about the concept and lead the first visitor groups to the installation. If you would like to be involved in the disposal process of the donated items, you are welcome to attend our mid-point potluck and discussion on November 17 at 6 p.m. If quiet, solemn mourning is more your style, you’re welcome to attend the silent vigil and participatory take-down on the last day of the event—November 22 at 6 p.m. More information will circulate throughout the month via the project’s Instagram, Twitter (@SantuarioPVD), website (santuario.wordpress.com), and Facebook event page (search ‘santuario project’).

Let the search begin! Locate those magical portals, those things that tie you to a specific past and keep you from seeing all the amazing adventures to come. Locate your guilt, your nostalgia, your anxieties, your hang-ups, your lack coalesced into some object and bring it to meet all the other emotional baggage in a wondrous monument to moving on. A project like this only works with the meaning you give it.