(This article appeared in the Anderson Valley Advertiser September 2012)
Marcia and I are moving from the house we’ve rented for the past seven years into a house (five miles away) we just bought. Miracle of miracles, the little gem came to us as if in a dream, and in the dream we could afford to buy her, so we did. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the new (old) house has required a great deal of work (eight weeks every day from morning until night) to be habitable when we make the great leap to living there this coming week, and the worse news is that we have to leave this house we have become so deeply attached to, and in so moving deal with ALL OUR STUFF!
Moving Experience #1: I confront a heavy cardboard box I dragged from Santa Cruz to Sacramento in 1979, Sacramento to Berkeley in 1995, Berkeley to Mendocino in 2006, and now Mendocino to another place in Mendocino in 2012. In faint felt pen on the outside of the box are the words Todd stories, go through. And I realize that I have never followed the dictates of that bygone felt pen but have continued to schlep this fifty-pound archive around with me for thirty-some years because…
Maybe I had better things to do. Maybe I had more room, more time, more tolerance for mysterious stuff taking up space. In any case, now I open the box and spend a couple hours skimming through dozens of short stories, two plays, and two novels I have only the vaguest memories of writing, though each novel consumed a year or more of my life. I end up saving a few of the stories and the two plays because a few of the lines grab me and hint they might lead to something good and new. The rest I dump into the recycling can to be picked up tomorrow, and as I dump those thousands of pages I feel a brief twinge of sorrow followed immediately by stupendous relief.
I move to the next behemoth box inscribed in purple felt pen: Todd screenplays, 1995, check out. And so on.
Moving Experience #2: My friend Bob calls and we talk about how work on the new house is going and how going through my accumulated stuff is going, and we share our thoughts about throwing things away. I brag that I have reduced the contents of a four-drawer legal-sized file cabinet to a half-drawer worth of stuff, and Bob asks, “So what was the stuff you got rid of?”
“Letters from friends, unpublished stories, works-in-progress that never progressed, photographs from the beginning of time to the present, cassette tapes, old book contracts, sketches for paintings I never painted…like that. The letters from friends were the hardest to let go of, though I had no interest in reading the letters again. I’m not sure why I saved them except…”
“Maybe having their letters was like having the people with you,” Bob suggests. “Their energy was present in those letters.”
“Which would explain why throwing the letters away was…is like a little death, the person no longer present.”
“Yes, death,” says Bob. “In the sense of absence. In the sense of letting go. Releasing a psychic bond. Giving something away that will never come back.”
Moving Experience #3: I recall reading interviews with several people who lost everything, as in every thing, in the great Oakland Hills fire of a couple decades ago, and how almost all those people spoke of the experience as initially devastating and soon thereafter incredibly liberating, for they were then free to re-invent themselves.
Yes. Moving gives us the opportunity to re-invent ourselves by what we choose to get rid of and what we choose to keep. I weigh several hundred pounds less than I did before we began this move, and I have come face to face with dozens of things I long ago ceased to use and certainly don’t need to carry with me so I can go on not using them. Yet if we weren’t moving, those things would continue to fill up my life and weigh me down. To get rid of things necessitates confronting those things and making decisions, and moving forces us to do that. So in a sense, moving is like a slow moving fire, sort of.
Moving Experience #4: Old photos. Good God, I was a little boy and a teenager and a young man. I had a cute high school girlfriend and I was a hippy and had nothing and then I married a woman who looked like a movie star and I owned a big house in Sacramento and there I am on the set of the movie they made of my novel and then I wasn’t married and had nothing again and…I don’t need to keep these pictures anymore. I don’t need to review my life every time I move. Enough already.
Moving experience #5: The past impinges. The past clings to things. The past imparts mojo to things and if that mojo is not sweet and inspiring, then I say jettison the thing! Yes, you’re right. That is a perfectly good chair. And someone will come to the garage sale we’re going to have at our new place and they will buy the chair and not be adversely impacted by the mojo because mojo depends on psychic interconnectedness, which garage sales tend to obliterate. What I’m saying is, it’s fine to get rid of perfectly good things because, in truth, they may not be perfectly good for me or for you because of the aforementioned psychic interconnectedness being troublesome.
Moving Experience #6: Indeed, psychic interconnectedness seems to be what is making this particular move such an ordeal. We are not just moving our bodies and our things to a new place and getting rid of things as we move, we are moving and getting rid of things encrusted with thousands of tons of memories and feelings. And it might be that we have held onto this stuff for so long because we have been afraid of losing our memories, which remind us of where we’ve been, what we’ve done, what we had. and who we were. Perhaps we are afraid that if we jettison all these artifacts we will find ourselves wandering in a void haunted by the question: Who Are We?
Moving Experience #7: So one question is: are we our stuff? No. Do we think we are our stuff? Maybe so. Oh, my. Look. There is the proof of dreams unrealized, or proof of happier, richer, better, younger times. Marcia looks at old pictures of me and invariably exclaims, “God, you had so much hair!”
Moving Experience #8: The big strong men come on Monday with their big truck to move the big heavy things, notably my piano, best left to big strong men without hernias. Thereafter, we will sleep at the new house and come back to the old house to mop up, so to speak, for the next week or so. Then we will come here no more. We will be absent to this place and this place will be absent in our lives, but for some weeks and months I will continue to know the contours of this place and the curves in the road from town to here better than I know the contours of the new house and the curves in the road from town to there. And a moment will come when my knowing of each place will be equal, and then in the next moment I will know that new place better than this place.