What Saroyan collected and why?

14 Feb 2019

"We used to do things, like walk down a New York City street and Papa would pick up sticks, dead, empty twigs off the ground. I'd say, "Pop, stop it. Please stop picking up the garbage off the street. You look like a crackpot. Please don't embarrass me on the street." He'd say to me, "Lucy, Lucy, where's your imagination for heaven's sakes." Sure enough, he took the twigs and put them in a jar of water. A week later they would be blooming with little tiny green leaves jumping out of them. 

He always had a "Found jar", he called them, these very big jars where he put buttons, pennies, little toys. He always looked on the street and found a lot of stuff. He'd take it home and put it in his found jar. He had twigs that would grow into trees, old sticks that were now living, blooming plants, jars full of adventures. As kids, we'd go crazy over them because they had wonderful little wings and buttons and doodads from the street. 

He could make something out of anything. He saw the beauty out of anything. He saw the beauty in everything. That's what made him such a wonderful writer.  - Lucy Saroyan

"Mainly, I collect pebbles, but only because there are always more of them than there are of anything else. I think it is the simultaneous general sameness and infinite variety of rocks that appeal to me. Solely in the realm of size and shape rocks are very exciting. Add to this the matter out of which a rock is made, the probable manner of its making, the weight, color, and texture of it, and a student has a very great deal to notice. 

My collection has never been systematic, but it has acquired a free and easy method based on simple principles. 

A number of people said, "What are the rocks for?"

"They are to remind me that art should be simple."

"They give me ideas for characters and stories."

"I like them."

"They are for throwing at people who ask what they are for." 

"Let us say that out of the hundreds of thousands of pebbles on the beach the thoughtful collector has brought home only three or four dozens of them. He has run water over them and placed them according to size on the counter between the kitchen and the parlor - a counter that is a daily art gallery. 

This nearness of these individual works of sculpture and the gallery-group of them is a source of great delight. 

A natural thing has a soul, a personality, a reality, whichever you prefer. Certain rocks have souls more moving to the beholder than a good deal of man-made sculpture. 

Rocks do not even accidentally resemble other things. They resemble nothing.  They are rock. That is a very delightful thing. It would be a lot more nearly accurate to say of a rock that it is simultaneously preposterously simple and profoundly mysterious."

"I am seeking pebbles. 

A pebble is a fact, a most remarkable kind of fact. And a poem. A mark of punctuation in the sand. Every pebble is the earth and the universe. The winter sun is bright, and the pebbles shine as the ocean comes over them and then slips away: the pebble, water, and light: and the movement of the ocean, like breathing. 

Pebbles are like eyes shining through eternity. They are of many colors. Every pebble is old, from the beginning. It is this that is so important about them. In comparison with flowers and other evanescent things of beauty, they are static. They change, especially in size. Every century or so, some small change takes place in every pebble on the earth. After a while, a number of them get to have shapes that are sculptural, and it is pleasant to find such pebbles as these. Th find them perfect, after all the centuries. They are small, detached, static, precise, and, to my way of thinking and perceiving, lovely.

It is impossible not to be religious, seeking perfect pebbles."

"If it is possible for a rock to be a work of sculpture, an object of art. Then what is an object of art? An object of art may be anything noticed in its entirety. Now, it happens that I am nearsighted. I see near things with great clarity. I must put on glasses to see far things clearly. Thus, it is quite natural for me to notice a rock clearly and in its entirety. It is this noticing of the rock that makes the rock an object of art. And the purpose of art may be said to be the simple, careful, and creative looking - at a given object, at anything, at everything." 

"The thing about the piece is that it keeps some of the truth I knew at that time on record. I have always felt that something of that sort is desirable, and as soon as I took to writing, I began to write about where I was at the time and what I was doing. In one degree or another, all of my writing marks passing time. Pebbles on the beach are marks of time. Each of them is also a thing of beauty and meaning for whoever happens to be there to notice. Frequently I came upon a patch of pebbles that made me feel I was in the presence of a congregation of people. A pebble is not unlike a face, and a crowd of people seems to be a sea of faces, as the saying is. I loved the pebbles. I love getting out to them every day. But most of all I loved the sea. 

Some of the objects are man-made and may be dismissed: bottles of various kinds, light bulbs, old shoes, brushes, brooms, parts of furniture, and so on. There is form in many of the man-made things, and frequently it is good form. 

The other objects are not man-made. They are sea-made, water-made, tide-made, time-made, sun-made, wind-made: pebbles and rocks, sea-trees and plants, shells, driftwood. These objects are made accidentally, inevitably, haphazardly, without a plan, without beginning or end, without intention. Nature does not strain after at. It is art. Everything it does, or everything that is done to it, whichever happens, to be true or truest, is art. 

I collect the objects rolled up onto the beach by the sea. 

I look at them, study them, have them around, turn them over to friends, lose them, or throw them back into the sea. I do this because it is satisfying, and because it is the means by which I get a small amount of exercise I need."