My room is a haze of dust. For days, I’ve been unboxing, boxing, sweeping, sorting, chucking things. What I’d donate. What I’d give to my niece and nephews. What I’d take to fresh life in another country. The work has been a material review of the past decade.
Very few people have been invited to my condo in recent years. It had been messy and the frequent victim of my go-to defense mechanism against anything painful, upsetting, or difficult: “I’ll sort that out, eventually.” The layers of things, dust, mementos reveal my complicated relationship with space. In an old blog, I wrote about my fears of owning my own place: that it would be some sort of final determination of my identity. Is it the gloriously designed, sun-lit place I imagined it would be? No. But I was right– it was me.
It’s lived and occasionally abandoned, with calcified fossils of the parts of me in the past decade. Wads of Japanese origami paper. A thick binding of the music and lyrics of Jesus Christ Superstar. Tarot cards. Bookmarks from Oli’s trip to Europe. Notebooks with only the first few pages filled out. My friends’ org registration forms. Half-full packets of lettuce seeds and tomatoes. A facemask from the 2013 Korea trip.
Things were indiscriminately dumped in corners because they were artifacts of possibilities of myself I didn’t want to let go. I’ll do that later. I always thought I had all the time in the world to do everything I liked. That was youthful nonchalance and bravado. My work is a relentless deliberation of who I am now and what I choose to be. For which things would I set aside a parcel of my “one wild and precious life.”
Part of me feels frustrated that I didn’t just throw away things. That’s the same part that wishes we could all just move forward, onward. It wishes we could glide through life without any hitches or snags, and that growth is linear and the slope depends only on our self-determined tenacity. We are able to integrate so fully that nothing falls by the wayside. We can throw away old journals because we’ve learned everything we absolutely can.
But it doesn’t work that way. A mentor said that growth moves as a spiral: we circle back into the same issues and experiences but each iteration invites us to go deeper. And then there’s a nostalgic delight in revisiting these old nooks. I’m sifting through yellowed readings, journals, planners– and the sundry bits stuck on pages. Many of them are stained with dried rain, tracing cragged shorelines. I’m given little time machines to revisit old lessons and old selves:
On my college notes, I stuck a post-it where I wrote indignantly about a tricycle ride to school one day in 2008. A corrupt cop flagged my tricycle driver over some trumped-up charge, demanded payment, and took a day’s wage. When we got to school, I emptied my wallet and gave the driver all of my 250 pesos.
A copy of “Courtly Love,” which Mam Sol lent me with the pregnant expectation that I’d stick around in the academe and move to the IS department.
Doodles on my class notes. Resolutions to lose weight.
Postcards from all over. The delightful little missives friends left on gifts. The best poster I’ve ever designed for a feminism seminar in which I also spoke.
Tickets to museum trips. Boarding passes. City maps.
Oli’s tottering, teetering, friendly gifts and letters and then his valentine’s cards.
What’s so worthy of keeping these specks, when they’re so insignificant they’re forgotten by the very person who’s lived through them? In the vastness of life, universe, and time, what does it matter? I suppose it’s these ephemeral little moments that makeup life. And while the mess is frustrating, I’m somehow grateful for the residues.
Some time ago, I’ve decided to become a bit more minimalist. I’m lucky I’m getting the chance. I learned: everything you own demands your attention. Every item draws you to certain direction– a Linda Howard novel asks you to be the person who spends a bit of time to indulge in romantic tropes, a box of watercolor asks you to dabble a bit, a jar of creme asks you to be the kind to your skin. And everything eventually inquires after its own ending. Every single thing you have, you will have to think about again. I’ve learned that time and attention is more expensive than money.
There has to be a sweet spot somewhere: to be light and spry enough to sprint into the future and to be grounded and meditative enough with my jarfuls of river water. It’s the still waters that can best tell the story of movement.
And sometimes, it bears reminding: these are the good days we’ll someday reminisce about.