My favorite travel coffee mug--a constant companion for the past year--broke last week and I nearly cried. It had a wide, air-tight cover that screwed on/off (which made it easy to wash), insulation that magically kept liquid piping hot for hours (better than any other mug I've owned), and the best part: a handle with a snap-on component that allowed you to clip it to your bag when you were hiking or commuting. It was the perfect size. It was the perfect shape. It was the perfect color. It was the perfect object.
I am in the process of paring down my entire universe of possessions: clothing, books, random items that I may need one day like for a zombie apocalypse, shoes that I wear to fancy events about 1-2x a year, etc. Everything. Most are of little actual use and more of mostly sentimental value. I held on items because of the memories they evoked: the swingy sexy blouse I wore on a 3rd date even though I broke up with that guy 2 years ago (still looks good on me though); the barely-worn pumps I purchased for my first adult job 8 years ago (still fits); tons of photos (from the age of 35mm film); gifts, journals, books with scribbles that document my process of coming into a political consciousness. "Military legitimizes state control of women??" my younger self asked on page 124. I found a birthday card from 7 years ago. My friend in Chicago mailed it to me, how exciting it was to get something by snail mail in a generation of quick e-cards and half-assed "likes." Little, material things that disproportionately carried big meaning .
When I moved into my current apt., I meant for it to be my roots in this city, not a temporary place to live between college and whatever the next step would be. It was my first home as an adult, and it was one that I chose with friends. I moved in with some long-abandoned art and music projects with intentions to finish them all one day. I invested in some heavy solid wood furniture that wasn't going to be moved again any time soon. I felt at home. My friends have since moved on to the next stages in their lives. But I'm still here in this place surrounded by objects. It felt cozy & reassuring to be among these things every day.
But my possessions slowly started to make me feel held down, rather than rooted. The abandoned personal projects began to feel more and more like liabilities. I couldn't move on in life unless I addressed them, but I didn't even have the same creative energy or ambitions anymore. I'd moved on intellectually and creatively, and those items only deluded me into thinking I was still the same person I used to be. And the thought of going through the piles to determine whether or not I ought to keep something or throw it away, well it created an anxiety like no other. Too much work. Better in the back of my closet than lost forever... what if I regretted throwing something away? They were the remaining parts of elusive ideas, images, and moments. I didn't want to forget about anything.
Last week, around the time I broke my favorite mug, I suddenly couldn't bear the weight of the possessions anymore, and I couldn't bear the anxiety of not taking care of them anymore. I don't know what clicked then, but a lot of circumstances in my life have been leading up to this in the past 2-3 years. In a few days, I parted with easily 50% of everything I own, and I'm not done yet. My room is nearly bare compared to what it was before.
The less stuff I own, the more emotional clarity I have. The present moment feels more genuine. Maybe that is why I love traveling so much. You only take with you what you really need and you find everything else along the way.
I don't know how to describe the feeling of letting go of these material things that I considered my "roots" for so long. It is simultaneously freeing, like you're floating off, and also very grounding, like you're more centered. It is at once scary and reassuring, that in spite of the absences, I'm still the same person... (probably more so without the background noise created by so much stuff). I've been going through some life things in the past 3 years, trying to evolve from some harmful habits, and one change I'm working toward is to allow myself to experience these weird feelings instead of putting them into the "back of my closet" to deal with them at point when... well, basically, never.
There's still one thing that lingers. I have voicemails, some that have been saved for over 6 years by now, that I just don't have the heart to delete.
Above and beyond having the security provided by objects--even beyond having memories that continue to change with us over time the way the landscape changes according to the lighting--one's strongest resources are the roots in her own self at the present moment.
Quien ama necesita saber perderse y encontrarse de nuevo. / Anyone who loves must know how to lose oneself and find oneself again. (Paulo Coelho)
I found this blog again after 3 years, and rereading it has been deeply reassuring that we don't change very much over time. When something's written down, it becomes visual and organized, and you can see the trajectories mapping where it's been, where it leans to go, and where it's actually goes later. The past few years I haven't been doing very much of anything on paper. It became kind of vain and stupid, I got embarrassed and talked myself out of it. I still kind of feel that way. Now it seems like 3 years of open space in my life. Of course I remember what has happened, but it seems those events happened all at once in one 3-year block. Some of the things that happened sucked. I grew as a person. But I'm not entirely positive what steps that took me here. Is it strange to be so forgetful? "If this were a map it would be the map of the last age of her life, not a map of choices but a map of variations on the one great choice." (Adrienne Rich)