When Monitor reader and friend Duncan Newcomer went to explore an “emotional value auction” recently, he didn’t know quite what to expect. They’re happening in town fairs across Maine, and they look like an indoor yard sale. But there’s a twist.
All the items had personal notes. The owner of a 100-year-old cast aluminum teakettle had stolen it as a teenager. “Never have forgiven myself for that transgression and I kept the kettle all these years to remind me lest I forget,” the note read. A chicken creamer always made its owner’s husband gag at the sight of cream pouring out of the chicken’s mouth – a happy memory from a hard marriage.
So how were things exchanged? With a note of one’s own. The owner would decide who got it based on the response. “I was not prepared to see something that I wanted so much,” Duncan says. The 2019 red-and-gold Chinese appointment calendar was useless. But it was exquisite, and it awakened his fascination with all things Chinese. To the owner, a Chinese college student, it was a link to home, brought to Maine to fight loneliness.
When Duncan wrote his bid, he was not even thinking about how he would also find a friend when he received the book, hand-delivered by the student and her artist mentor. “Breaking out of COVID isolation never felt so good or valuable,” he says. “Something different, not consumerist capitalism, some spiritual economy was suggested.”