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Friday, April 07, 2006

The Academic Moves

Coincidently, Michael Berube posted a longish essay about his move from Illinois to Pennsylvania. A bit of insight into what I might say if I bothered to write a 2000 word essay on moving--just for the hell of it. Among lots of other things, he is prolific.

One hundred and ten of those boxes contained books. I know, I know: among academics, let alone academic couples, 110 boxes is a light load. Janet and I simply don’t own enough books, partly because (as we admit to ourselves only when we move) we simply haven’t read enough books. But in the world of professional movers, 110 book boxes is quite enough for any ten people; there wasn’t a single mover, on the Illinois or on the Pennsylvania end of the deal, who didn’t walk through our inventory and whistle or gasp or curse. [ ... ] And then we had to declare our valuables: crystal, china, jewelry, furs, guns. Checking “none,” “none,” “none,” “none,” and “none,” we thought that this was as useful an emblem as any other for the academic move: 110 book boxes, no valuables.

I don't think we'll hit 110 boxes. We eliminated a lot of books before hitting the road for Arizona, and then decided that lots more could go once we saw our shelf space diminishing. Hell, that's what libraries are for. A lot of the fiction went. Painful, but liberating as well. Anything that I figured I wouldn't teach, write about or likely even read to the second hand shop. This wasn't so bad. I'm certainly not going to forget about Wuthering Heights or Charlotte Bronte, and if need arises, I can certainly locate a copy.

The book reduction is part of a commodity-wide reduction in our lives. Berube writes about enjoying moving, enjoying the cataloging and redistributing of a life. Myself, I enjoy the opportunity to rid myself of excess weight. My friend, another academic who just finished moving, wrote me that "if your stuff doesn’t fit on a single horse and travois, you’ve got too much stuff." He's right of course. Even pared down, I still feel that my life is imprisoned in these objects. I feel a step closer to freedom each time someone hands me the cash and takes away the desk, the lawnmower, the carseat, the compost bin, the dresser, the old computer. It's as if the very real weight of these has been lifted, and I'm no longer carrying them--physically or mentally. There is much to be said about clearing space for a life to happen. Without it, one's life is little more than caretaking, and in the end can be summed much like the final images of Citizen Kane: endless stacks of crates, statues and furniture in a decaying Xanadu.


At 8:44 AM, Anonymous scott said...

Ugh. I'm dreading this. I think I'll be doing a radical commodity reduction, moving from New Jersey to Norway. Everything that I keep need to be worth more to me than what it costs to ship. Hopefully I'll also revel in the sense of becoming lighter.

At 8:36 AM, Anonymous Owen said...

I'm actually looking forward to something similar when I head to Slovakia. I went through this process at the end of every undergraduate year, backing my hatchback up to the dorm, filling it once, and throwing away or giving away everything that wasn't contained.

I'm interested in the comment about the books; I hardly have 110 boxes (I doubt I have 10), but I own so many books that I have yet to read. As a student, I was always delighted to discover nice trade paperbacks at the thrift store. Maybe I should consider regularly contributing that sense of delight to others...

At 6:14 AM, Blogger Dr.K said...

So, wouldn't you know, as soon as I wrote that line about the horse and travois, I went out and bought a grand piano! An 1870 square grand piano is a beautiful thing, but it's very, very heavy. But the load of other encumbrances we've gotten rid of in our move has somewhat made up for it. Still, I think of Gary Snyder's advice for living: "Learn the flowers. Go lightly." Good advice.


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