Wednesday, August 17, 2005

wasting and hoarding

Yesterday I returned to Miami, and moving back into my room here has been a little like living in a stranger's home. Not that I've changed so much, it's just that I've gotten used to living with the same few possessions, which as the summer advanced has gotten to be more than a few. I gathered all kinds of things - a bunch of cd's, concert programs, a computer, a suitcase of stuff I'd left years before at my sister's house... So now I have to sort through all the new stuff, and combine it with the old stuff, and then there is the even older stuff, hiding in the recesses of my closets - somehow it all needs to fit into a tiny studio apartment in an orderly way. It's all very overwhelming and mind-numbing work, like being an archaeologist, archivist, museum curator, interior designer, and janitor all at once.

I can't help but seeing the process of sorting through this stuff as a metaphor for identity, which is perhaps why it's so difficult for me to throw any of it away! As unlikely as I am to wear my old Catalina Marathon t-shirt, or re-read that Phillip Roth novel, giving them away seems somehow like a betrayal of the person who was so immersed in that goal, or that story. If anything, books are more difficult for me to give away than clothes - most of my old socks pretty clearly aren't getting any better with age, but I worry that I might need some of those short stories again in the future. Those characters might come back and haunt me, and will I be able to find them? Will my memory be enough to contain them all?

I guess a lot of this struggle over stuff comes from insecurity about memory - why else keep all those old articles, pictures, books, if not for fear that my recollections of them will fade, and I'll lose all the wisdom and beauty and joy they represent to me? For that matter, why write in this blog, other than to somehow hold off the inevitable decay into obscurity of all my thoughts and impressions? And yet, the more data I manage to store electronically or in my closets, the more feeble and vulnerable my own memory seems.

Whenever I'm surrounded by boxes and suitcases, I think of that scene in Dante's Inferno, with the wasters and the hoarders screaming at each other, "Why do you waste?! Why do you hoard?!" I'm not really sure why I do either, or even which one I am doing at any given time - for all my regrets, I never can seem to help myself though.

I just discovered a brilliant essay by Nicole Krauss on this subject, titled "On Forgetting." To read it online, click here.


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