Clear The Deck
The same might be said for life in general, at least insofar as our obscenely wealthy Western culture is concerned. In our endless consumptive quest for a Better Brand Of Better, we generate a seemingly bottomless pit of castoffs, leftovers, outgrowns and obsoletes, cramming our closets and basements and leering at us from odd corners of the yard. All those gawdawful things, too old to use but too nice to throw away. Yardsale and thriftstore bait.
Possession management has long been a national extreme sport more widespread and epic than snowboarding, skydiving and cheating on your taxes combined. Getting hubby to clean out the garage, cajoling Gramps into throwing out those old National Geographics, steeling yourself and finally tackling that terrifyingly overcrowded bookshelf—they don't score points or award medals, but they should.
Chief among the innumerable obstacles facing the would-be Cleanerator is, of course, the inevitable melancholy embedded in the things of the past. The future can be bright or dark, terrifying or hopeful, but somehow yesteryear always ends up a drag. If it was good, it's gone, and if it was bad, well, it was bad. History, that endless pillar of turtles all the way down, supports our precarious present and serves as launching pad for our happy destiny, but that doesn't make it any less brittle and nippy when you start poking at it.
In a way, it's a purely physical response, our nasal reaction to the all-too-solid metaphor of crumbling cardboard boxes, musty dresser drawers, dust-bedewed attics. Old stuff in its lumpy, obdurate essence is a profoundly unspoken philosophical essay on ephemerality and time—and it smells like it.
Dealing with your own pathetic shed skins of yore is depressing enough, but the process becomes positively dire when someone you love drops dead on you and you're left with all their crap to deal with as well. Here, the previous symbology of Relics Of The PASTpastpastpast is overlaid with any and every emotional memory-trigger the relationship chooses to unleash on you. Sorting the possessions of a loved one is like juggling surplus hand grenades, clueless as to which ones are still live until one goes off in your face and blinds you with bittersweet recollection. Which recollection, natch, can really slow down your progress in draining the freaking swamp.
When Sandahbeth and I moved into our digs here in ecumenical Puget Ridge, S took immediate and undisputed (okay, maybe a little disputed) possession of the garage, there to fulfill a life's goal: a fully-equipped dedicated jewelry studio. She instigated the installation of a back deck, skylights and a loft, added a chandelier from her mother's house and christened the place The Crystal Palace.
In pursuit of her dream, San proceeded to cram the unassuming space full of any amount of arcane tools and machines and supplies, spending endless happy hours tweaking away on this or that trinket or pretty. Some she sold, some she gave as gifts—an enameled bas-relief torso I admired became an anchor of my bedroom altar—but all too much of what she produced was only practice, scrap for the scrap pile. She also imported every bit of paper she'd ever saved from every desk she'd had, both from our 20 (at that point) years of rambling and before, names, addresses, gig leads, stray telephone numbers, recipes, songs, poems, drawings, notebooks begun in triumph and expectation and abandoned all too quickly, cryptic jewelry lab notations, the odd gum wrapper, the works.
As time and entropy did their dutiful duties, S became more and more disabled and the original shop setup less and less accessible. At the end of 2004, she and my brother Bob (blessed be he) packed the entire menagerie up and stashed it on the back deck, which I previously swathed in plastic. I set about righteously remodeling the space, but by the time I'd finished, S was too infirm to take advantage of it. Her dream sat in boxes, unused.
And then of course the dream and its dreamer both took the long dive together and there I was, estate disassembler to the stars.
At first, the problem seemed adamantly intractable—a monolithic pyramid of boxes, tools, furniture and contraptions, oozing sorrow. But life and mortgages go on, and to stay in my house I needed a roommate, and somewhere to bed them down. Little by little I began chewing into the mess, sometimes only getting through a couple of Boxes O' Grief before I had to hie me to some other location, there to imbibe strong beverages and shed manly tears. When even coffee became ineffective as motivation, I deliberately went off both the tears of the two-tailed mermaid and the deconstruction for nearly a week, then hit both as hard as I could, resulting in my daylighting the back deck for the first time in almost four years. The view isn't breathtaking, but it's pretty, and poignant.
In the end, though, what I'm dealing with here is more an operation on myself than anything else. I'm sorting out and putting away a fair thirty years of my life, throwing out the trash and useless leftovers and gleaning such value as I can from the remainder, changing into a different person in the process.
See, I'm a lucky guy. I just inherited a whole house, man! My weird old uncle Thaddeus (who I was named after) just got fed up with the place and gave it to me. His wife died and they'd been married for like thirty years and I guess he like couldn't face it, so he just signed it over and went off to live in a monastery or a nunnery or like that. It's a totally awesome place, but he must've been really broke because it's like really run down.
But it's got great potential. Totally!