My last few months have been … interesting, as in the ancient Chinese saying “May you live in interesting times.” It’s five months since I found Dear Auntie on her bedroom floor, hours after she’d had one stroke too many; I have spent a lot of those five months, dealing with the nearly fifty years of “saved memories” that filled her house. It has been, by turns, surprising, frustrating, hilarious, and heartbreaking. Occasionally it’s made even more poignant by the fact that this was my boyhood home.
And it has rubbed my nose in a lesson that I should’ve always borne in mind:
Just as you own your “stuff”, your stuff owns you.
My first task was to select the furniture to go into her new studio apartment. There was room for her bed, her living-room couch, a couple of easy chairs, and two dressers from her bedroom (one of which had to go into her walk-in closet, along with such of her clothes as would fit and be useful to her). I brought over what I could of her favorite treasures – like the display case she had in her dining room, full of her Hayden-Renaker porcelain horses – but I was left with a lot more stuff that would never fit. And my major task, in getting her house ready for market, has been that of clearing out the remains.
Some of it’s been funny, although frustrating. She hadn’t touched her son’s room after he died in 1987. I found nearly a decade’s worth of Playboy and Penthouse magazines, plus over a hundred plastic model kits that he’d stashed in his closet and in the attic. His bedroom walls were papered over with girlie posters from the 1980s, and he had duplicates for all of them on one closet shelf. Other things have been kind of, well, heartbreaking – like the chopped-off ponytail, long and bronze, that Grammy had saved when Dear Auntie decided to change to a page-boy cut; or the Capezio toe-shoes left over from her first career as a professional dancer. And I found boxes and boxes and boxes of photos – this after Dear Auntie had declared that she never took any photos, didn’t have any in the house.
And the papers. Saved receipts, account books that she kept all her life (she was utterly particular about writing down every cent that she spent), bank statements, old love-letters … good grief! I found over $1000 in cash, stashed in different dresser-drawers in her room and my cousin’s. I found silver ingots, old silver dollars, and her sterling table service from her first marriage. I took just-about-all of Dear Auntie’s jewelry over to “Shady Pines” with her.
It took me four months to go through everything properly. Some of the extras went to a consignment store near her place; some went to the Salvation Army, including boxes and boxes and boxes of books. I found “good homes” for some unlikely stuff through a Yahoo! group called “Freecycle,” and I was every bit as happy to get it out as the takers were to receive it. Finally the house is empty and clean, with fresh paint on the walls and ceilings and fresh varnish on the old hardwood floors; our realtor put it on the market yesterday with an open house that attracted a lot of interest (and should result in a good offer).
That brings me back to my nose-burning lesson about “your stuff owns you.”
I acquired my own “stuff-habit” in childhood. Learned it from my mom, from Dear Auntie, from my grandma. It was probably a matter of insecurity, on several levels; my gut feeling is, “if my stuff is there it’s okay for me to be there too.” It doesn’t help that I am addicted to the printed word, fond of re-reading favorite books and hanging on to magazines that have articles I want to keep for reference. And it’s too easy for me to see the possible value in something and say, “Well, I really ought to hang on to that, shouldn’t I?”
So, all too often, I do. Just as Cousin Mark did. Just as Dear Auntie did. And therefore I’m “hanging on to” a houseful of “stuff.”
As long as you’re staying put, this problem seems “minimal.” But what if you’re going to move? What if you have a goal to “sail beyond the sunset” – or to make yourself a new home in a new land? What are you going to do with all that “stuff” – sell it, give it away, throw it away? And when the day comes that you can’t handle the task any more … what then?
Well, that’s what I’ve just done with some 90% of Dear Auntie’s stuff, isn’t it?
Now that I’ve done that, I need to start the bigger task of handling my stuff. A bigger task, I say, because I have my emotions involved in this. With everything I examine, I’m going to be asking myself, “Why was I keeping this? What was I planning to do with it? What value did I place on it? And why do I think I might need it some day?” The inconsequentials will be easiest; the fond mementos will be tough; the real treasures may be heart-wrenching. But even a big sailing yacht will have room for less than 5% of my belongings, so I’ll have to be ruthless toward the end.
I’m going to be breaking the habit of a lifetime. I almost need a Twelve-Step Program to achieve my goal. But this “stuff,” these “inconsequential treasures,” these years of collected memories, are now standing in the way of my dreams.
Setting The Record Straight (A Voice For Men, 20 Feb 2012) is a frank review of thirteen subjects of men’s rights, which have been distorted in the service of Female Supremacy. Robert St. Estephe documents the historical record, and it’s not what “Mommy/Teachers/The Sisterhood” have been telling you … hence, this “weapon of mass instruction.“
Courageous (The Elusive Wapiti, 20 Feb 2012) is a review of the latest “made-for-the-congregation” movie about fatherhood and the definition of “righteous men.” As with “Fireproof,” though, the movie is laden with man-shaming, guilt-tripping, and “it’s all the men’s fault” …
No Man’s Land (Jack Donovan) is a triad of articles about the way that masculinity has been maligned, re-imagined and mis-represented by others. He has brought them together as a free e-book.
Davis-Bacon “Equality” (The Spearhead, 19 Feb 2012) relates Keoni Galt’s experiences on a major renovation project at the Pearl Harbor Naval Station. “Equal Work Deserves Equal Pay” – but he shows how and why some workers are “more equal than others” at the hiring and the firing time.
Today, 20 Feb 2012, is the 50th anniversary of the first US manned orbital flight. Astronaut and Senator John Glenn, who rode “Friendship 7″ into history on that day, finds it a bittersweet anniversary; especially so since we have to cadge a ride from the Russians – our Cold-War adversaries of Project Mercury’s day – to access the International Space Station that was lofted into orbit by our now-retired Space Shuttle program.
Those first days of the Space Program, from the “International Geophysical Year” (1957-1958) through the Apollo lunar-landing program, were heady with the promise of a space-based future. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey looked like the future to us, and despite the dark tone of the movie, the future looked mighty good. The reality of today, of our place in space, is far less exciting – have we turned away from the long goals, the daring goals, in the pursuit of a kinder, gentler, more comfortable, more inclusive, less-elitist society?