Linda Norton, "Monk"

What happens when you pick up a hobby you left behind as a kid, 22 years ago?

Linda Norton, "Monk"

Parker Molloy has a lovely post about rediscovering the joy of collecting baseball cards. What happens when you pick up a hobby you left behind as a kid, 22 years ago? Molloy confesses to "mindlessly" scrolling eBay, buying "super cheap and interesting" cards, quickly amassing a worthwhile collection. She calls it "relaxing," and she's also got a signed Kris Bryant rookie card which no fan would fail to brag about.

I'm struck by what she says about the cards' rarity. When I was younger, I was torn. I wanted collectibles to be worth real money because that's value I could articulate. I had lots of collectibles, though, that had sentimental value. Lots of things from places I went, like a sheriff's badge made in China with a small logo of Niagara Falls, or the souvenir coin everyone gets at the US Mint. These were important to me–they were my life—but I can't remember presenting at "Show and Tell."

Most of the cards Molloy collects feature a print number. This system I might have appreciated as a kid? I'm not sure. It's a unique way of approaching, well, uniqueness:

One thing I found pretty cool about many of these cards was the print number stamped right in there, letting you know how many copies of that particular card were made and which number your specific card was in that lot. For instance, the signed Kris Bryant rookie card was #23 out of 25; the Willson Contreras card was #41 out of 50. There’s something neat about having something rare, even if that didn’t necessarily make it more valuable...

I count two ways this system plays with rarity. First, it states there's only X number of cards. Already, you have something not a lot of other people have. You're part of an exclusive club of card holders. You're the few who possess a precious object and care about it. I can guess this much about myself at 12 or 13: I would have treated the object as sacred in a strange way. As part of my collection, and part of only a few others, it occupies a place unlike any other. Not that it is with me, but where it is with me, is what I would marvel at. Why does the same card in someone else's collection not feel the same?

Another expression of rarity, of course, lies in the exact number assigned to the card. "23 out of 25;" "41 out of 50." This would make me superstitious. I'm being given numbers specific to what I hold. If I see those numbers anywhere else, in any other form, I know they have meaning. The card has meaning, after all.


So much of what I have done with social media, writing, even research, is a form of scrapbooking. At times, this is obvious to me, like when I retweet a poem. I intend to put it in my personal journal and comment.

Other times, I'm completely ignorant of what I'm doing. And I feel I have deeply neglected whatever I've collected throughout my life, even when I knew I was scrapbooking.

I confess that while I feel neglectful, I cannot pinpoint the exact character of the problem. Some passages have been read again and again for years, as I've poured attention over every shade of meaning a sentence might have. Did I achieve or build anything for myself? Anything I could use, anything that enhances or completes my life? I certainly don't remember every page I've written, and it's hard for me to know what sentences I use in which I reside.

Linda Norton's "Monk" has been sitting in my Twitter timeline, briefly glanced and very briefly considered. At first, I thought it an excellent small portrait. A monk repeats the reality he wants. "Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty" is not quite epistrophy, but the intent cannot be discounted. We can imagine him pronouncing "His name is holy, His Word is holy, His Creation rises in holiness." He's saying this, over and over, and then the "church bells begin." He will be transported; the established religion is a miracle for him. The prayer receives an answer because of how he sees things.

Monk (from "The Public Gardens")
Linda Norton

Epistrophy ends
as church bells begin.

At first, I thought this was a portrait of someone else, someone who wasn't me.

Now I'm thinking about how he gathers, categorizes, and collects for his own life. I, too, repeat what I envision like a mantra. "Be gentle. Be less angry. Be honest. Do more work. Clean more. Read carefully." I envision myself; I cannot assume the monk does this. Perhaps he does, contemplating an "I" defined by sin in desperate need of mercy. I definitely don't want to argue that his embrace of religion has resulted in complete self-negation. Different people arrive at the same institutions for vastly different reasons.

I can say this, though. If he ends every sentence the same way, he pushes himself toward an object. He may be the actual ringer of the church bells. And it does seem like he is being transported away from the earth. The poem only gives us a taste of how he talks and what he hears. "Monk" is a mere title. There would be no hint of a portrait otherwise.

Maybe the monk and I are different. He doesn't want to be here, but I'm thinking a lot about what being here means. It does feel like that difference may not be the most relevant concern. We both repeat what we want, we do hope for elevation of a sort, and if there is no response—no church bells, no useful insight—then our efforts are ruined. "The expense of spirit in a waste of shame" may not actually be lust. If I spend years constructing a book which fails to find a reader, what have I done? It's hard to believe I haven't wasted life.

Now I can see the outline of a deep neglect. It is not enough to find value in what one collects. The monk sees the plants he cultivates as glorifying God. On a smaller scale, I do read the poems I retweet. There is value at hand in sacred sight and profane musing. But that value may not be good enough. The bells can ring hollow in the face of grave injustice; reading does not necessarily lead to thoughtfulness or memories. We need a certain sort of value, one which emerges from the fact of fragments as opposed to imagined wholes. In this, childhood me understood something more about the world. I embraced uniqueness because of limits, because of the hard fact of incompleteness. Adulthood, by comparison, can be a total lack of modesty. We ask for jobs to provide us with a dignity no one else has. Our desire to be loved can ask for too much, too soon. There's something vastly important about having a card that's 21 out of 25, priced at $1.99 plus shipping and handling.