I’ve moved several times in the last fifteen years. Moving is a cleansing experience–you go through your “stuff”–organize, eliminate, rediscover. My grandparents moved across the ocean in an age when communication was done with pen and paper, and carried by slow moving vehicles. I recently discovered that my grandfather’s thirteen siblings spread all over the world: Europe, America, Africa, Australia. Adventurous Partingtons set off from the Isle of Man as early as the 1600‘s. They weren’t afraid of change.
We were determined to stay in New York City or one of the nearby boroughs and I had to make sure there would be room for kids, grand kids and friends to visit. We found an apartment the right size and configuration, but I realized I’d have to rethink my “stuff.” In forty years of marriage and sixty-plus years of living, you accumulate a lot of “stuff.” Your husband accumulates “stuff.” Your children leave their “stuff” for you to take care of. Even if you religiously edit through the years, “stuff” accrues. I watched many episodes of “Hoarders” to prepare.
My husband remembered what we’d paid for things (especially furniture), but didn’t want to acknowledge “cost effectiveness.”Ie: if you spend a ton on an armoire and then sell it cheap on Craig’s List, you must take into account thirty years of use. This goes for chairs, lighting fixtures, bric-a-brac, etc. And, why keep a fire screen when neither you nor your children (who don’t have the same taste as you at all) have a fireplace? I could go on…
Then there were my books. My beautiful books! With every move, more of them gone. Furniture, objects–put your feet up and your drinks down; I have little attachment. But my books were my friends. They were my life in other people’s words, people who never met me but knew me better than I knew myself and could explain things more coherently. OK, yes, I have friends–human and creature–and a full, to over flowing, life. But I love books! They charm me; they carry me away, they protect me from the harsh corners of reality. There were times when I hid behind them, times I stood in front of them and defended them.
I took ten shopping bags of books to Housing Works, but as I packed remaining books into boxes, my heart sank. We would not all fit into the new place–well, we might fit but there wouldn’t be room for tai ch, and certainly wouldn’t be room for grandchildren to frolic. The dilemma dogged me and put me behind schedule. Movers arrived and before I could do anything about it, they threw books into boxes. Everything went into storage for a month while hubby and I roamed from place to place in a fog of exhaustion and anxiety. Moving day arrived and boxes were piled to the ceiling in the new place. I unearthed my sweatpants and coffee maker, and looked, with trepidation, at the book boxes. I visualized Hoarders houses with their narrow pathways and precarious piles.
I asked for help.
She packed and I called out–“no,” “yes,” “no,” “no,” “maybe.” In the end, I got so caught up that I decided the “maybes” should go also. Twenty-five boxes of books, loyal friends, went to the used bookstore. No more donating, we needed the money.
They paid me $600 dollars, which no doubt means they were worth $6000– at least. Those double paperback scifi books from the 60’s, the Philips: Dick and Jose Farmer, gone. The literary finds, obscure writers unearthed after many hours grazing in used bookstores. The hipster sagas, immature adventures and the embarrassing romances. I have a terrible memory but I know they’re all in there somewhere and made me who I am. They’re the palimpsest of my psyche. The physical traces of where I came from are now gone.
The books that I kept are the intensely significant: Marquez, Millhauser, Flannery O’conner…books by friends: Emshwiller, Eakins, Rutkowski…and reference: tai chi, dictionaries, Ricky Jay…They stare at me in disbelief and pride of relevance. I dust them regularly and consult them occasionally. The space around me has opened up to air and light. I miss my books–and I don’t miss them. I hope that they’re not so much “left behind” as “gone on” to entertain, influence and, yes, insulate others.
“The Line” was inspired by seeing lines of women and children in Somalia, Rwanda, other war-torn countries and regions experiencing famine; old photos and films of bread lines during the Great Depression and World Wars, present-day lines for soup kitchens and food pantries.
In New York City lines are unavoidable, though not always as desperate. We settle into lines at the DMV, the post office, for a movie or trendy bar. When I first arrived in the 70’s, I used to stand in movie lines in Times Square while friends waited in Howard Johnson’s. Times Square wasn’t what it is today (a theme park), it was gritty and peculiar. There were employees and patrons of peek-shows and porno shops, con-men and freaks, hookers and pimps. It was a marvel to a little girl from northern Appalachia, a hypnotic spectacle I took in eagerly.
I confess that I sometimes enjoy the camaraderie of a line. My local fish store, at certain times of the day, has a long line of shoppers with whole fish in bowls, waiting to tell the man behind the counter how we want it cut and cleaned. We discuss recipes and politics; we gossip. Grocery store lines are the only chance I have to read tabloid headlines, statements that conjure up fantasies beyond the fallacious stories within.
Of course, there are those lines we haven’t the patience for when we’re in a hurry, those that turn up unexpectedly. There are lines that oblige us to contend with angry or psychotic people. Londoners wait patiently in their queues; it’s not always so in New York. Books help. iPods help, but you might miss something interesting.
I was once in a movie line in Boston when the temperature was -5 and the people in front of me were eating ice cream. (It was the 60’s.)
What “in line” experiences have you had?
Here’s a link to one of the stories in my book: