Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Taking Out the Trash

It's not easy getting ready for a sudden move to Scotland. Despite all my best efforts at living lightly, we have accumulated a lot of crap. People tend to be junk magnets, especially when they are paired off. Luckily I do not have much of a compunction about tossing out old memories, although every once in a while I will linger a little long over a baseball ticket stub, a box of magic cards for a game I no longer play, or an old college textbook I haven’t cracked in a decade – and may not have even opened in college, depending on what the course was.

These moments are accompanied by a deluge of memories. Most of the memories are good, but, like all memories, the taint of the bad is often more powerful than the fragrance of the pleasant. The Magic cards I pulled out of the basement made me remember Darnell from college. He used to come over with his enormous box of at least 5000 magic cards. Jeremy, Darnell and I would sit around all afternoon guzzling cheap beer, smoking camel lights, building decks and playing magic. We would play each other straight up, or 3-person games. We would discuss deck-building strategies, make sound effects when our best cards were played, and talk trash when we had a great card in our hands. Of course these memories remind me of how Darnell suddenly died one day of a blood clot in his brain. These moments remind of the haiku by Taniguchi Buson.

The piercing chill I feel:
my dead wife's comb, in our bedroom,
under my heel.

Each time I look at those cards, the memory of Darnell is a little more distant. Maybe some day I will throw them away, or sell them. But not just yet. Items tied to memory can be very powerful. Since our brains work by association, items in the dark recesses of our basements are like tiny little reservoirs of memory. Sometimes it gets a little out of hand. We covet memories so much, that we start collecting junk that could hold memories. Or we start collecting stuff that could hold other people’s memories. And sometimes we are just collecting junk because we don’t know what to do with it. Like why have I been holding onto a pair of 10 pound dumbbells I haven’t used in at least 5 years? Or why do I need three sleeping bags? Or why do I remember Baumgartner’s phone number from the 7th grade?

I think a lot of people are like this. And collecting junk isn’t only about memories, useless or not. Maybe men like to collect stuff, because it is like conquering. They are hunters. Maybe women like to collect stuff because they are the gatherers. Put the two together and you have a lot of junk.

Cavewoman: “Are you ever going to get rid of that saber-tooth tiger skin? It is moth-eaten and tattered nearly to shreds!”

Caveman: “I’ll get rid of it when you get rid of your bone rattles!”

I am certainly this way about books. I lie to people and tell them that I have so many books so that when I remember something I read a long time ago, I can page through the book to find it. That sounds plausible enough, but it has really only happened two or three times. I collect books, because they are like little conquests of knowledge acquisition. I have read the majority of the books I own. This means when people come over, they can be impressed with my voluminous knowledge of everything from Saul Bellow to Herodotus to Shakespeare. Of course ask me anything specific about any one book and chances are I can’t remember. The mind is a faulty, failing thing. But at least I know I possessed that knowledge at one time. It’s a security thing. Like a back-up disk for my brain.

Then… suddenly there is an urge to purge all of the cobwebby junk that has been lying in the dark of the basement for 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, or more, depending on how advanced we have become in age. It's like a giant enema. Or a hard drive dump. This most recent purge has been brought on by a planned move to Scotland. But nothing so radical is needed. Indeed, some people have colloquially called these enemas “spring cleaning.”

I bet right now you are thinking about that pile of boxes in your basement and how cathartic it would be to go down there and start pitching stuff. Not only is it unburdening, but you might run across something that causes you to remember something you have not thought of in years.