I have a friend I haven’t seen much of lately, because he is busy cleaning out his apartment. He has accumulated so many books over the years that he readily admits his place has become a fire hazard. His landlord agrees with him. So he is sorting through hundreds of books, articles, manuscripts, notes, and old mail in order to get rid of everything that is unnecessary and ridiculous, which, I suspect, is most of it. I may not see him for a while.
I take no pleasure in reporting this or even thinking about it. I bring it up now only because I have begun the same process myself although for a different reason. Next month I will move from New York City to California. This is a return trip, one that started with my moving out of California in 2008 for Washington, DC and then from there to New York City in 2010.
I won’t bore you with the details except to say that I have made this move many times before. The first was in 1980 when I moved from New York to California by way of some twenty five states and four European countries. It took a year. Along the way I lost a friend but gained a family. I don’t think I am divulging any secrets by saying that I am not the easiest person to travel with. I can get on my own nerves.
I like to travel but hate to move, which is a problem since I have done a lot of both. I have been to dozens of countries, most often for work as in the time I tried to give a three-day workshop in Brazil in Portuguese and a business seminar in the Ivory Coast in French. It might have worked out better had I given the Brazil talk in French and the Ivory Coast seminar in Portuguese, but that’s another story (see Je Suis Américain). International relations are très compliquées, you know.
The problem with moving is that each move takes its pound of flesh and ounce of spirit out of me. I have done moves involving New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, DC, and California. Within California, I have moved nearly a dozen times. And I’m not even in the military.
For this move, which I am determined to make my last (other than the one to meet my maker), I decided to use a moving company rather than do it myself. I already have enough Penske/U-Haul stories to form a support group. I don’t need any more. The most outlandish one involves a family from Nigeria in Wyoming (see Nine Lives).
So now I am sorting through books, articles, letters, files, greeting cards, emails, notes, manuscripts, report cards, artwork, photos, diaries, and appointment calendars. The diaries date back to 1972, the calendars to 1980. I can tell you where I was and what I did during the entire Iran hostage crisis. Some might say that’s a bit excessive.
Here’s the pernt. Going through all this material is like flying around with the Ghost of Christmas Past. I enter into the past, reliving it, but am unable to do anything about it. I am an outside observer, an unobserved observer. Maybe that’s good protocol for anthropologists, but do I look like Margaret Mead? Reading things like “coupon books” from my kids or a Valentine’s Day card with the imprint of a kiss in red lipstick forces me to reevaluate my role in the past.
When was I virtuous, selfish, stupid? Sifting through these memories–discernment (note the Jesuit training)–is exhausting. Most of the time I came up short, which is why, after doing it for a few hours and even with the aid of chilled Ketal One vodka, I made a beeline for the confessionals at my parish. It just so happened they were open for business at that time.
If I can’t apologize for the sins of my youth, at least I ought to confess them. And then, of course, there are those I committed this morning. It’s hard, this moving on.
Image credits: feature by Handiwork NYC; boxes by Mohammed Salem; “Next in Line” by Shalone Cason. Happy birthday to Louise Barnes Davidson. We’ll always have Wismer. This post is dedicated to Paul Zarowny. For more, go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance, which promotes “alternatives to software, culture, and hardware monopolies.”