I’d like to see myself as a collector of art. Certainly I am no expert on its subject matter; I couldn’t distinguish a Van Gogh from a Picasso, nor Renaissance masterpieces from Modernist drudgery. I know nothing of the abstract, and as far as I’m concerned watercolors are just wetter paint. No, I don’t know much about art at all, but there is something about the framing of a scene, the capturing of a single moment in time, and the sheer energy of it all, that entices me.
I bought my first original piece from a small art show in Geneva, Illinois, after stumbling blindly through the town on a sweltering summer afternoon. Call it superstition, but when I first saw this painting I felt like it had been waiting to tell me something, as if it were a hooded man leaning against an alley wall, whispering, “psst, over here!” I remember taking a slow breath when I saw it, then wading through the crowds of bored housewives and overtired children to get a closer look. In the chestnut frame stood a tree, a knotty birch that looked as if it were melting against the waves of callous blue in the background. And, boy, the background was blue, a screaming hue that told of ice and frostbite.
But I did not admire this painting merely for its aesthetic. I admired this painting because I gave it one look and immediately heard its echoes, its precious secrets. With one look, and one look only, I knew the moment of its birth, as if the canvas carried it as an onus upon its taut face. I gazed through it and saw heaps of snow, pillars of ice, heavy air, vicious winds and decaying foliage; I felt the touch of a midwinter numbness, that subtle loneliness you feel as you watch from the upstairs window someone drive away and disappear into the storm; I heard the creaking of the floorboards with each gust of blizzard wind; and I tasted the last sip of wine that had tickled the artist’s tongue as she swathed her finishing strokes, trapped in a chilly prison, her home. She named this moment “Out of the Darkness.”
Needless to say, I bought the painting; it now hangs in my bedroom. More importantly, though, I learned something from that day. I learned that moments, emotions, sensations, or a sheer lack thereof, could be captured in a frame and hung upon the wall, and I found and still find such an idea absolutely magical. On those days when the flowers are extraordinarily vibrant shades of magenta, and the sun is shining, and my iced tea has just the right hint of lemon, I can pluck those sweet moments and their calmness and tuck them away for a rainy morning. On those darker days, on the dips of my biorhythm, when both sides of the bed are the wrong sides of the bed, when my life has been table-topped and all that’s left is a volcano of sheer, unrelenting RAGE and disgust for every trifling matter, I can snatch those feelings up, as a kid jars a firefly, so that one day I can gawk at the raw energy of a pestilent moment long passed.
I am no expert painter—at most I can scribble some stick figures and a sun on a crinkled piece of printer paper—so creating anything as momentous and blue as “Out of the Darkness” is, one might say, out of the picture. But I can write, and it works all the same. A pen is simply another paintbrush, a page another canvas, and a cover another frame. This is my purpose, as a writer and as an appreciator of art: I collect not books, not poems, not paintings, not sculptures or photos, but moments. I write to wrap those atoms of emotion in neat, eight-and-a-half by eleven packages—to frame my detestation, my agony, my mania, my sheer emotional vigor, and then hang the result next to other people’s agony, mania, and vigor. I’m a hoarder, an indiscriminant gatherer of flowers and demons, and I wish only for people to stumble upon these packages loand hear the murmurs of a framed energy they did not know existed. As a collector of moments, that is all I could ever hope for.