I dump the contents of my briefcase on to my floor. The bag has become unreasonably heavy, and I am looking for a specific slip of paper, which I cannot for the life of me find — in the satchel or out of it.
Instead, I discover: Multiple keys to multiple hotel rooms in London. A boarding pass from the night I flew from Hong Kong to Heathrow. A pocket map of Koh Samui. One (1) apricot Clif Bar. Purell; hand lotion; a small bottle of exedrin; post-it flags; a paper prescription for tretinoin, as I have reached the magical age of zits and wrinkles. A sheaf of legal papers, and an out-of-print, used copy of Collected Lyrics by Edna St Vincent Millay, with the inscription To Deborah: This book and my love, T. Nov, 5, 1991.
There is also a tiny wallet containing my business cards, and small denominations of the currencies of five (5) countries. There were previously the currencies of seven (7), but on a layover, I had needed a diet coke; elsewhere, I had needed a taxi. Which is precisely why I carry those bills.
And my leather folio with my notebook and my passport.
Why, you ask. Why the Stuff?
I don’t know. I am trying to find or hold on to something, I suppose.
I was talking with someone just the other day about Stuff, and Settling Down. Which is different, somehow, than Settling.
Do you ever watch those Hoarders shows on television? I asked him, They horrify me. I always thought that I was the sort of person who could part with anything — but since I’ve settled down a bit, I find that I hold on to Things.
I’ve lived in the same house for over 20 years, he said, And now we’ve filled it to the brim. I worry that I’ve become a hoarder without ever knowing it.
I think this begs the question: To what do we all cling?
I suppose I carry around this bag of stuff; these keys and maps and a mobile device full of pathetically “arty” photos because I want to reify the experiences I am having. And, to some extent, because I am scared of Being Without. Without youth; without analgesics; without something to occupy myself; without the means to purchase water or diet coke wherever I am in the world if I want it.
You see the Hoarders on television, and they cling and claw and cleave to their Stuff after trauma and loss. As if those giant piles of crap will protect them from the world; will save them from ever being hurt again.
I have my books and my poetry to protect me.
I don’t want to be a hoarder. I want my experiences to be real; I don’t ever want to be Without. But I don’t want my Stuff to come between me and the world.
I wonder who Deborah was; why she’d shed her copy of Collected Lyrics. Was the burden of T’s inscription just too much to bear? Or, had she and T gone on to live happily ever after, and Collected Lyrics was just one more dusty paperback, cluttering up their Fifth Avenue flat? She’d carelessly thrown it into the crate bound for Strand Books when they were doing their spring cleaning — debating what to toss out; what to take out up to Berkshires. Collected Lyrics didn’t make the cut.
Whoever she was, her life went on. With T or without T. Most certainly without Edna St Vincent Millay. So have I come into possession of her inscribed volume of poetry because Deborah had settled down, or because she had settled — for T, or not?
Maybe I am asking the wrong thing; thinking the wrong thing. Maybe the stuff and things and need to set the ephemeral things in stone is silly, after all. Maybe the exercise of trying to make things “real,” trying to chase things down is what puts up the walls — not the Stuff itself.
We buy the stuff; save the stuff; create the stuff.
We crave it; covet it. We run after it; turning ourselves into knots trying to make it, or find it, or attain it. Then we settle for whatever it is we get.
I look down at the mess of things I have dumped out of my bag. I forget what I am looking for, and regardless of what it is, I think I have…Enough.