Things

Posted on February 23, 2014

12



I’ve spent about 35  40 years thinking about “things.” I don’t mean thinking about this thing or that thing, but about things in general. What are things? What defines a thing?

Things are oddly amorphous. Consider the different kinds of things we’re talking about in these common expressions: “Put that thing over there,” “Singing is not my thing,” “How are things?” “Things are going really well right now,” “The thing is…”

One thing about things (and there it is again), is that they all have a horizon. They are limited in one sense or another. It’s largely these horizons that distinguish between things. When we were cataloguing artefacts for the Welland Historical Museum and would run across an item whose purpose we couldn’t even guess at, we might say, “Put that thing into the unknown pile for right now.” The “thing” being referred to had a certain shape, a set location in space (a location that could be changed from here to there). It had a beginning, and presumably it would have an end. It was bounded by a horizon of both space and time.

But when I say, “Singing is not my thing,” the horizons defining the thing are far different. Is there a location to the thing that singing is not a part of? A beginning? An end? Whatever the “thing” is I’m talking about that singing is not, there is enough of an intersection between singing and my thing that I can make a meaningful reference to both of them as being of a similar kind. But what kind is that?

The thing about horizons (and there it is yet again) is that they can also change even as you’re looking at them. In fact, they almost always  do. Whatever my thing is that singing is not part of, it has a boundary that seems to shift when I think about it. My thing involves activity of some kind, and singing is not part of that activity, but what kind of activity is it? Is it music? It could be. I play violin (blues, pop rock, a bit of classical), so is that my thing? Maybe, but it all depends on what we were talking about to begin with. Perhaps my thing is writing. Writing is certainly one of my things. But there are many varieties of writing. So-called “sponsored copy,” in which an advertiser pays to have you write a piece that looks like a news article but is really an advertisement, is definitely not my thing in writing.

Things morph, become misty, insubstantial, yet always bounded in some way. They have shape, but are often shapeless. They are there — but not.

Essentially, I suppose, it comes down to one thing: Things drive me crazy.

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