Remembrance of Things PastMarch 3, 2012
Good Food Writing—What Is It?March 24, 2012
While spring may turn a young man”s fancy to thoughts of love, my thoughts turn to spring cleaning. Maybe it”s the urge to break free of winter”s cocoon, or perhaps it”s the noticeably warmer weather, which demands that we pare back the layers and focus on what”s most essential. Of course, it could simply be the fear of ending up like the Collier brothers, dead and buried under a pile of my own accumulated junk.
If you are similarly motivated to clean house this time of year, allow me to share one valuable piece of advice: Ignore the voices in your head that have previously convinced you to hang on to things way beyond reason or city health codes. You know the nagging little pests of which I speak. The ones that implore you to keep the blouse with the poet sleeves, because, hey, maybe one day you”ll get asked to a costume party and decide to dress up as a pirate. Never mind that you cannot remember the last time you actually went to a costume party. (In my case, I think it was 1998. I”m pretty sure that if I were to be invited to one tomorrow, I would spring for a new outfit.)
Or what about this chestnut? “I should save the ratty, old sweatshirt in case I ever have to paint the apartment or help Mom in her garden.” As if I needed 15 sweatshirts for all the home improvement projects I WON”T be doing.
Then there”s the oldie-but-goodie: “I”m going to give this blouse to charity. But wait—it”s got yellow deodorant stains under the armpits. I can”t in good conscience offload it onto someone else.” So then, of course, the dysfunctional thought that follows is, “I”ll keep it.” Because even though the article of clothing in question is not good enough to give to someone who has nothing, YOU should allow it to take up valuable space in your closet, when you know full well that you”ll never put it on again. (Unless, of course, you have to paint…)
The objects I have the hardest time parting with are books. I still possess poetry collections and works of literature whose spines have not been creased since my college days. I”m not referring to those books that are on the borderline, the titles that maybe, possibly, perhaps, I might someday want to re-read or reference in my writing work. (I still plan to hang onto those, despite the fact that libraries exist…) No, what I”m talking about is the books I know with certainty—the kind of certainty I wish I had about almost any other aspect of my life—are destined for a slow, sad decline on my bookshelf, their pages sandwiched firmly between their siblings, yellowed and forgotten.
Despite my natural reluctance to release a book into its larger habitat, I have made some progress over the years. During my 2011 bout of spring cleaning, I finally worked up the nerve to donate my copy of Edmund Spenser”s The Fairie Queene, along with a slew of other titles. As an English major, I”d read The Fairie Queene in college, and at the time, I was smitten enough with it to decide (foolishly, as it turned out) to make it the subject of my required junior-year research paper. It”s no exaggeration to say that by the end of that semester, I had cursed Sir Spenser, his parents, his grandparents, and his entire ancestral line for passing on the DNA that led to his birth and the creation online casino of that odious tome. But despite the fact that I knew I”d never flip through its pages again—let alone sit down and actually re-read the beast—I still kept it around for another two decades, until my fingers finally released their grip and placed it atop the giveaway pile.
As I think about it now, I guess I was probably afraid that if I gave the book away, I”d also be giving away part of my past right along with it, but now I realize how wrong I was. Change is hard, but it can also be incredibly liberating. When I really stop to think about it, I”m okay with the fact that I”ve changed since college. (Actually, that”s what we call an understatement.) And I”m more than okay with being the kind of person who no longer enjoys dense, allegorical epic poems from the 1500s that are written in medieval English. Plus, getting rid of The Fairie Queene and other books (I”m looking at you, Paradise Lost) allowed me to fill my shelves with new, and newly illuminating, reads.
The bottom line—which can be hard to locate under the piles of useless crap—is that I”ve never regretted purging those things that have become superfluous. The key is to be honest with yourself, and let go. We all know that this applies to so much more than just books.
So, as we head into spring, I encourage you all to join me in this task. Toss the unflattering sweater that clings to you in all the wrong spots, dump the fat jeans, and discard the leather boots that pinch your toes every time you wear them. Free yourself from the bad feelings they bring on. Identify a worthy charity, and donate those novels and nonfiction books you”re never going to pick up again, so that another person can discover something new about themselves in their pages. Shed your baggage, and make a little room in your life for something new.