One of my goals, more than a goal really, more like a lifestyle revamp, is to be rid of objects that fill my space. I have a lot. This weekend, I have sold a camera and an evil chair on Craigslist. And just getting rid of those two items gave me a boost of enthusiasm and energy, and $235 extra in the piggy bank. I have been casting a discerning eye over our entire apartment, looking for items that are needlessly filling space. Like other furniture, extra coffee tables, and disused symbols of former bachelorhood, like broken kegerators. We’re married now. I can do stuff like that.
Some items will be so easy to shove out the door, I’ve already forgotten I had them. I will not miss them when they are gone. I still have boxes I carry around with me during every move. I don’t even know what’s in them. I have a couple of boxes of summer clothes I never even opened this year. I could probably drop them off at Goodwill and never think about them again. I have clothes hanging on hangers that I haven’t worn in years. I keep them because they were gifts. And maybe the person who gave me those clothes might one day come to Portland, and happen to look in my closet. “Hey! Where is that red shirt I gave you for Christmas in 2005?” This keeps me up at night.
So I’m battling a northeastern, Yankee tendency to SAVE everything. Because people in the northeast have attics and cellars, and they never, ever, move. I have been carrying around a metric ton of crap with me as I moved from each corner of the United States. Massachusetts, California, Hawaii, Oregon. If I move to Florida, you can shoot me and take my stuff. You have my permission.
However. As virtuous as it feels, and as much as I enjoy thinning my possessions, and getting rid of my “stuff,” I have a certain weakness about books. It just seems blasphemous and flippant to get rid of books.
I have a bookshelf filled with books from college. Shakespeare was two classes. Chaucer was two classes, my instructor was the guy whose name was on the spine of the giant Riverside Chaucer tome. I took European Culture in the Latin Middle Ages. I took Philosophy and Literature. I took Celtic Myth and Folklore. I took Greek Lit, American Lit, Brit Lit, Sci Fi Lit, Children’s Lit. I took Comparative Religious Ethics. I took History and Structure of the English Language.
Now. This all sounds smart. I absolutely assure you, it was not. Because I took all those classes, all those classics, all that literature, all that culture, and religion, and philosophy, and you know what my profession is? I’m a goddamned accountant. GODDAMNIT. Be ye duly warned. You can spend the money and take Humanities if you want to feel smart. But you may fucking kick yourself later.
So, books. To my endless shame, I took those classes, but even into my 20s, and even into my late 20’s, I was a lazy student. I didn’t really read these books. I read them enough to get by. I read them enough to write papers. But I didn’t DEEPLY read them. Homer. Nietzsche. Descartes. Plato. Rousseau. Milton. Yeats. I read them enough to bullshit my way through essays. Even into my 20s, when I should have known better. I was paying for the classes myself. And essentially, I just honed my bullshitting skills. Into a fine, sharp point of bullshit.
I haven’t cracked these book in ten years, since I graduated. I’ve taken them with me everywhere I go. They probably collectively weigh one hundred pounds or more. I continue to keep them. They aren’t light reading. I will probably never have a free evening where I peruse my bookshelf and pull one of these volumes to finish before bedtime. They aren’t fun. I’d have to slow… way… down… to comprehend these words. I’d have to read them over and over before would I start to “get” them. I’d have to re-tune my brain from my instant news, constant twitter, endless stupid blather frequency that is my normal life. I’d like to think I am a thoughtful person. But basically, I have mush brain. I’m too dumb to read these.
But I’ve kept them. I keep them out of guilt. I keep them because I never really “read” them. It seems counter intuitive to get rid of books I haven’t read yet. Which is 90% of my books, honestly. And I keep them because they make a “smart” bookshelf. Maybe “I’ll find the time.” Maybe my neurons and synapses will reconnect, and I’ll read these, comprehend them, I’ll sprout wings and fly of into the land of enlightened intellectualism.
Would I be happier with the empty space? Without a reminder of my guilt and shame? How quickly would I forget them? Or should I carry them with me, with that heavy weight, and an everlasting, unfulfilled promise to myself, that some day, some day, I will read them?
I know the answer. There is nothing I am better at, than torturing myself.
(Update on this situation over here: Wrestling a Bear.)
(And another update here: Getting Rid Of My Books was the Best Idea Ever.)