On Mathoms: a Manifesto (Almost)

I should get rid of my old CDs.  There is no real reason to keep them.  Maybe a few of the local bands who never made it big that signed copies would be an exception, but I have kept them all, along with every program from every play that I have ever seen.  There is no real sense to this. I have seen a lot of plays.  I have to make a concerted effort to not save stubs from movie tickets, although I do find them piling up in places.

Long ago I wrote (luckily I don’t save everything that I have ever written, but I did save this):

I first encountered the word ‘mathom’ twenty-one years ago when I was reading The Lord of the Rings. Hobbits, like both Dragons and New Yorkers, are natural hoarders. And, when a healthy amount of material possessions becomes burdensome, some of the more interesting things are sent to a museum run by the Mayor: “The Mathom-house it was called; for anything that Hobbits had no immediate use for, but were unwilling to throw away, they called a mathom. Their dwellings were apt to become rather crowded with mathoms….” I later found out that ‘mathom’ meant ‘treasure’ in Old English. And, indeed in Beowulf, the dragon’s hoard is filled with many a mþum.

It was an introduction to an old blog. I thought at the time that the mathoms I kept were only in my mind, but, it turns out that when I moved a few months later I had more than I realized in boxes.

I make no pretense that the mathoms I put here will be worthy for a dragon’s hoard, merely that they will be worthy of your consideration. I only hope, that by writing them down, I can be done with these pesky notions so that they stop cluttering my mind and clutter yours instead.

I didn’t mean it at the time but I think that this notion sums up all writing, or at least all of the writing that I do.  The ideas need to be let out one way or another, and they have to be let out properly.

I told an idea to a friend years ago for a story I wanted to write and he told me it was cliché, and there was no more damning word to me then than ‘cliché.’  I would even have preferred ‘bad.’ I can’t recall exactly what the idea was but I doubt it was cliché, or even bad.  I do know that I went about it in the wrong manner.  Nobody wants to hear story ideas, although a few may want to read them once they are finished.

I can’t speak for anyone else but for me the ideas have to come out or they become distracting.

Tags: The Mathom-House at Michel Delving,



NOTE: This article was featured on my old blog on February 4th, 2013. But it seems much longer ago than that. And that bit at the end is new. 

This is a translation from Old English that I did last summer. I’ve shown it to a few of my friends but there isn’t any place to publish it, in spite of its inherent interest.

It’s a relic of a bygone day which was not more barbaric (if you think we are more humane look in your closet and see how much of your wardrobe was made in a sweatshop), but rather a time when all knowledge—medical included—was symbolic, not scientific, and when the most heartbreaking human conditions were utterly untreatable.

I’m not sure what the symbolic uses of the porpoises or the whips are. It’s quite possible that their meanings are completely transparent and are simply unknown to me or, that like much of the traditional Northern European culture, they have been lost over the last millennium.

Against Lunacy    

If a man goes mad    make a whip
Fashioned from the pelt   of a porpoise and flog him.
Once whipped    he will soon be well.


Addendum: There are certain things that I have come to think of as cultural mathoms — little songs and poems from our ancestors, odd customs, and that sort of thing that I’d like to see preserved and remembered  — even if they no longer have the currency that they once did.

A few weeks ago I went to a restaurant with a friend who chided me when I tried to find a place to put my hat.  She wanted me to just keep it on, and that it was no big deal, and that I should stop being so old-fashioned.  I ended up putting it on the table, but I don’t think that she understood the gesture.

Anyway, this little cure is one of those mathoms, a little part of tradition to tip the hat to.