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Ends and Means

238 Tavares Bastos. Looking up at the main level, where the kitchen used to be. Rio de Janeiro, 2012.
238 Tavares Bastos. Looking up at the main level, where the kitchen used to be. Rio de Janeiro, 2012.

I’d like not to tell you, but to show you.
It is so much more visceral that way.

The condition of the place – I wonder in what way is the character of the place like that of the man who makes of it his own home – are they reflections? Can they be otherwise? Is this always so? Is there a relationship between the places we inhabit and who we are?

I’d want to say yes, but that would assume that we all inhabit places in equal and comparable ways, and that statement, I feel, is suspect.

We don’t all inhabit places the same way, to the same degree of interaction. So I suppose that it is entirely possible that someone may live in a place and never make of it their own. Never “let themselves” out into the space. I guess that might be so … even though I find it hard to imagine such a person, I can, which means something already.

238 Tavares Bastos, looking downstairs from main floor. Rio de Janeiro, 2012.
238 Tavares Bastos, looking downstairs from main floor. Rio de Janeiro, 2012.

As it is, this is a place that bears a strong resemblance to the man it is occupied by. The heaps of tools and raw materials, the dilapidated walls and exposed wires, every detail speaks of a person who does things with the space he is in, the space itself is his medium. While so much is arranged to sustain particular functions, there is nearly as much that is left unkept because their functioning has not been so compromised as to negate it (I’m thinking of the steps, which are crumbling at the edges, or the mortar escaping from between the stones of the wall).

The entirety of the house stands much as the man stands – an entanglement of past initiatives, ambitions, starts; and it manages to hang on to the fundamental features that are required of it to BE (alive, a house), it functions.

These, the bodies of so many ends unmet, leave me to reflect on an experience I had recently. When we moved from Tucson to Arkansas I went through my studio space and culled the parts into what would become the flotsam, the jetsam, and what would be kept. It struck me with some gravity how many of my own thoughts and pursuits had been stillborn, the corpses of their unfulfilled promises packed sometimes neatly, sometimes wantonly, only inches from those things I actually did use, touch, and animate with purpose. Maybe I should say ‘validate with purpose and use’… because in some way it is that.

Life may be, for some, a long string of movements towards play, or purposeful problem solving, or even responses to dire needs. Such a feeble summation of Life … but let us press on: life may be a long string of projects.

Projects internal, projects external, projects with other people without concrete goals or measures… projects for fun, or for work, forced upon us by serendipity, embarked upon unknowingly… and so what of the ones that do not become anything?

Well, of those, the ones that call the least attention to their remains are the immaterial ones. Whether we left-off our own internal aims, or not, will most likely not leave any mark upon our person which could easily be seen. All that could be found, by those who know us well, is our own apparent discomfort with some characteristic we could have worked to better. Projects taken up with other people, when unfulfilled may be even more fleeting than those taken up within ourselves, for when distance and time intervene, nothing but the memory of it may remain between (us, you, both).

Of the projects we can see left undone – there we find the great mounds of means by which no ends were met. How should we judge these half measures when, certainly, projects become abandoned for as many reasons as there are seconds in a person’s life: chance, or disinterest, or a more pressing need, and so on ad infinitum. There must be fifty ways to leave your lover, as the song goes.

And so I return to looking at the aftermath of my father’s last two decades of life, he has only been in this house since 1989, and even then, neither continuously, nor without at least one total disruption that left the space virtually a shell. What it is is not clear. Is it only the unfinished few of many other endeavors embarked upon and completed? Are these the product of a voracious mind and limited resources, such as youth and funding (twenty years ago he was a 70 year old pensioner)? Or are they the slow accumulation of interests and intents that settle upon a place much like sediment at the bottom of the ocean, a marker of how much activity came before? Is it character, or nature, or chance, or rather a mix of all of these?

I don’t have any definitive answers to these questions. I guess I have some inclinations on how to answer, but nothing firm. I am not my father, and know not his mind and life as one should to answer for him about what may be left unresolved.

The saying ‘the ends justify the means’, gets spun in this instance of means who’ve met no ends at all. I wish I knew what that, this all, meant.


One last thought flutters through the entanglement of ideas above to land within my reach – how differently does my father see the space than I? Are these “unresolved heaps of half done projects”, or merely the dross of projects ended? Surely, I know my father has things he would like to be doing, but what of them is here for us (me) to look at? None that he has spoken of.

Then what, if I am to see this space as it is recast, does that say about my father?

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