Saturday, May 17, 2008

Enlighten the Load

You know those moments when the harsh light of reality clicks on above your head and suddenly you see things more clearly and you’re all like DUH, I AM SO STUPID. That happened to me just the other day.

I thought I was doing pretty well with the letting go of things as I pack to move cross country. I've sold a lot of furniture on craigslist.com (Best. Web site. Ever.) and built a massive pile in my dining room of decorative items, linens, clothes, shoes, and all kinds of other stuff for a garage sale and/or donation. But I was having trouble selling myself the idea of leaving books behind.

I love books. I refer to Barnes & Noble as the Vatican and I tithe like an alter boy in the priest's chambers. My "To Read" pile eats up a healthy bite of my bookshelves and just keeps getting fatter. I often wonder how I escaped the publishing industry for so long.

When I was getting estimates for moving trucks, I was dismayed to find they were much higher than I anticipated. I was told my books were what raised the tally because they are heavy (especially since I have a thing for hardbacks) and estimates are based on weight in the truck. Darn. The price of being educated.

I decided to weed out my library, but I didn't do a very good job. There may have been 15-20 books I was willing to part with, all novels or things I'd read halfway then lost interest in. (I gained back about 10 bookmarks tho!) It wasn't even really a dent. I accepted that it's going to be an expensive move, and packed the rest.

Then the other day I read something that flipped a switch. Books "belong to the world" a particular blog stated, and they should be passed around and shared, just like music. Hmm. I nodded in agreement, but my conscience was poking me because I know I'm not walking my talk. I've had an account with bookcrossing.com for four years (another awesome web site), and I've registered exactly four books - all within the first few weeks of membership. Not what I'd call a shining example of sharing.

I've always felt a bit of unrest too in the fact that books are made of paper, which means dead trees, and the more I buy, the more I'm contributing to killing trees. Especially if I'm recommending other people buy the same book instead of just giving them my copy. Not cool. But I still love my books. There's something very relaxing about seeing them lined up in a bookcase; or being curled up in a chair with one, your favorite beverage on the table by your side.

Anyway, I questioned if I was being selfish. :sigh: Yes, probably so. My rationale has always been that I might need to reference them later when I'm writing, but I know deep down it's super rare that I've ever actually gone back to look something up. In fact, even if I did, the chances of me remembering which book to look in were pretty slim, and half the time I can find it faster on the Net. Sometimes it sucks to be so internally honest.

So I asked myself, "Why do I have such a hard time letting go of books?" Well, I like having them in my home because they make it feel cozy and comfortable, like a bookstore or coffee shop. Somewhere in the grey matter I also knew it was a little bit because I feel like people with a lot of books are generally smart, and I want others that visit me to think I'm smart too without me having to demonstrate it. Ego was lurking in the corner at this point, looking guilty and trying not to be conspicuous.

"Which books do I like having the most?" I asked. Definitely the New Agey-spiritual ones. (They are a majority of my collection.) "Ok, then what is it about the New Agey-spiritual ones that I like so much?" Ego's virtual hand shot up despite myself. "Because they make me feel more spiritual and surely they project my enlightenment to the world!"

Oh Ego, if I give you enough rope, you always hang yourself.

The floodlight was tripped and I realized that if that's really why I was hanging onto all that ink and paper, beautiful as it may look on cherry shelving, I had COMPLETELY missed the point of the very tomes I stubbornly clutched to my being. Siddhartha was right: Attachment only leads to suffering. (And expensive transnational moves.) You can't find yourself, or a feeling of spirituality, or enlightenment, by looking for it in material things... like books. DUH.

So I actually UN-packed boxes yesterday and sorted out everything I've read. I'm even putting all seven of my hardback first edition Harry Potter books on eBay. (Fantastic story, but seriously, do I need JK Rowling to make me feel magical?) I kept any I hadn't read yet and my absolute favorites like Conversations With God, The Red Book, Surfing the Himalayas, and God's Debris. I then noticed I still have more than enough to create a cozy feeling, especially since I'm not taking all my shelves with me. After I finish reading the books that made the cut, they'll be moving on. I'll probably have bought twice as many to replace them by then anyway, plus it gives me reason to explore new coffee houses in San Diego and find public bookshelves in need.

I'm leaving all my Book Darts (yet another fabulous idea) in the titles I'm giving away too. I always found used books that have notes in the margins especially intriguing because it leaves much to the imagination about who the previous owner was. Book Darts offer even less explanation, but the places I mark are generally good points to spend a few extra minutes pondering. This spreads a bit of a balm on my strangled Ego too, thinking the next reader might possibly stop and wonder who I am and what made me single out that particular passage.

Maybe the truck and my spirit will be a little lighter now.

1 comment:

Chucka Stone Designs said...

I am a self proclaimed professional mover so at least once a year (sometimes 2-3 times depending on my desire for gypsiness) I end up paring down a significant level of stuff that I have accumulated. There are a few things I have been unable to let go of however and I, like you, keep asking myself why.

For example, about 15 years ago I started collecting shot glasses. Everytime I would go somewhere new that was the trinket of choice I came home with (please note I rarely drink & when I do it is usually beer or wine; shots went out of style for me in 1998). Well it got out of control when EVERYONE started giving them to me when they went places too and now I have a million (alright, probably over 200). They have not been on display for well over 8 years yet I keep toting them around. I sat & stared at the taped shut boxes the other day & finally figured out why. The very first one was from an old roomie. She was kind of psycho & stole some things from me on her way out but left behind this shot glass from Pennsylvania. I decided to keep it & use it as some kind of vehicle to make myself feel better about being stupid for who I trusted at age 19. Will hoarding over 200 dust collecters really make me trust more? Well you know the answer to that so suffice to say I will also be paring down to one shelf worth of ones that have uber meaning to me and the rest will be placed on eBay within the week.

Thanks for posting this and again making me smile at how the universe really sends you the right messages, people and circumstances at just the right time :~D

~ Jenn