Saturday, May 1, 2010

Hoard Out

"You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world." - Tyler Durden
I'm getting rid of stuff. Making tough calls on books and clothes. Photos. Magazines. I want to be a reverse hoarder. A defenestrator. I want to repel matter that might make its way into my home. I want to create a strong psychological missile defense shield against most solid matter.
There are subtle degrees of being a poser, and it takes a lot of honesty to shake the syndrome of presumed coolness by mere ownership of cool shit. That image in my head of leather jacketed Paula Theodsopulous, music director of WMUA, walking into Mahar Auditorium in 1982 for our Food Science and Nutrition 101 lecture with Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" 12" single tucked under her arm was the boilerplate I would adopt for cool. These days I am well into the enlightenment that followed the realization that I was defining myself in terms of my belongings to an unhealthy extent. But when it finally happened, my lesson didn't come gradually. Let me share.
I had a TON OF STUFF that I moved out here from Los Angeles. Thousands of books, records, CDs. Lots of artwork and gold records and antiques. Knicks and knacks. Bric and Brac. Here's an embarrassing shot of me "nailed" to my CD collection in 1994 in my studio in Hollywood and below that my late beloved cat Fred atop my LP collection, all now gone.
It cost $7000 to move all this stuff from LA to Northampton. But before I could really get settled, I went into my "missing years," fodder for an eventual post, and my landlord sold all of my possessions out of a storage space in Hatfield. I call it my fire, but unlike Glenn Siegel, a recent Northampton fire victim, I didn't have to pick through the destruction. It was just gone. My landlord, who I later successfully sued, has stopped paying me the monthly pittance I agreed to. I'm pondering my next move with him. But as overwhelming as it was to fathom when I found out all my things were gone back in 2003 or so, I learned how to lose by losing. I've never felt the urge to collect anything since then. I don't get attached to things nor do I fear being robbed like I used to. I still appreciate objects but I don't get obsessed.
My friend Barbara Friend said not spending money is like a game. You have to practice practice practice until you stop eyeballing the world as an assortment of goods. It's hard to shake that view given the way many of us were brought up with presents associated with magical characters like Santa and the Easter Bunny. Kids love magic and imagination but I can't help wincing when I see the toy tsunami being repeated with my nephews and little brother. How corruptive to harness childhood mystery in the interest of acquiring new shit. Not to dismiss the power of an awesome Christmas present. My dad gave me the Calvin and Hobbes box set. An amazing and generous gift. The kind of thing where you know your dad knows you and knows you've been eyeballing it but can't afford it. But I kid you not, I randomly opened to a page to take the picture of the box set and the three strips below just happened to be about this very subject. (Click pix to read full size strips)Barbara said, keep the wallet in the pocket. Sure, go into the store. Pick things up. Look at the people. They're much more interesting than the objects. I'm usually aware of and fascinated by retail behavior. Well, behavior in general. Visual and actual eavesdropping. I watch what books people pick up and wonder if they're self-conscious about it. Perusing that Poets & Writers magazine makes that woman look like an aspiring novelist. On the other hand I don't believe that the guy in the John Lennon glasses has actually read Pynchon. Nobody has. No you haven't. Liar. Okay, Steve Shavel has. And my dad. Maybe.
So I did literally zero out my material wealth but for the clothes I was wearing and some artwork and furniture that my family rescued before the rest went into storage and eventual oblivion at the hands of the landlord's hired thugs. The stuff my family cherry-picked, well they've pretty much kept it. Which while it would seem to cancel out the benefit of the salvage effort for me, it does remain in the family and that's okay in the enlightened view that I'm practicing. My Leonard Baskin at 51 self-portrait is on my sister's dining room wall. Maybe I'll reclaim it when I'm 51. That never seemed possible before, me being 51. It will certainly help me revise my estimation of Baskin as an old man in that portrait. artist in his early prime!

David and Leslie Ham of the former Half-Moon Books graciously returned some books I'd sold them (in harder times) that were inscribed to me including my tiny Jim Tate chapbook; Apology For Eating Geoffrey Movius' Hyacinth.
Josh and Cynthia at Mystery Train Records in Amherst generously did the same with some albums and singles that were autographed to me. That's NRBQ's Tom Ardolino at Mystery Train. I wonder how Tom is handling the gradual demise of record stores, his homes away from home.
I did accumulate (not collect!) a lot of books in these post zero-out years. I just pruned about 200. I'll never miss them. Literary liposuction. Let's look in the discard boxes. Hannah Arendt "Responsibility and Judgment." Why did I buy it? Because the cat I adopted in Los Angeles from my upstair's neighbor was named Hannah after Ms. Arendt, the subject of my neighbor's masters degree. Plus, it looked important and I was curious about her, recalling my neighbor's passion. And I bought it for the cover. I've never cracked it. But uh oh. Here I go, just like with clothes. "Well maybe I will wear this. Maybe I should read this.
Okay let's look on Amazon. "Responsibility And Judgment is a collection of previously unpublished writings from the last decade of the life of editor and World War II survivor Hannah Arendt (1906-1975). Chapters wrestle with complex moral issues and philosophical questions both in general and in relation to specific events such as judicial trials of World War II criminals and the repercussions that America's failed war effort in Vietnam had on the nation's policies and psyche. Written in clear, no-nonsense terms, Responsibility And Judgment is as accessible to lay readers as it is to philosophers, and offers its insights free from the constraints of political ideology. Highly recommended. " Oh my. Maybe I'll keep that one after all. Maybe my instincts were good on that one. Here are the boxes of culled books. Mom, I know that's the Michael J. Fox book you gave me in there but rest assured I did read it and it was uplifting. In all seriousness. But now it's time for someone else to enjoy it. :-)
So let me find a better example of a book I had no business buying beyond the purchasing ritual and its slipstream of lies. This one might work. Ladies and Gentlemen, Lenny Bruce by Albert Goldman from the journalism of Lawrence Schiller. Amazon customer review: "If you have ever read any other works by Goldman, more specifically his John Lennon bio, you realize the author only cares about sales and speculation. In this tedious book, the most laughable lie is that Bruce was illiterate. Really. Goldman never met Bruce, but sure made some money off of him. Do not diservice the memory and great work of Lenny Bruce by purchasing this tome of lies." Okay. I saved myself a dozen hours of life. Paid $7.50. Copies going for as little as 2 bucks on Amazon. Maybe Henry will give me a 25 cent credit toward another mistake at The Old Book Store. Though I hear the Montague Book Mill is also a good place to sell. Or Raven Used Books. Both require appointments.

What about all these pulp paperbacks? Do they contribute to my happiness? Perhaps it would be enough for them to live on in this blog but physically move on to fulfill someone else's hoarding needs.

Everyone has this drawer at home...
...and at work.
But for now, I'm leaving all my stuff alone, and looking out my window at a little reminder of a world beyond stuff. There is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and if there was it's been processed into bars and is one of the few things propping up the dollar these days. And sorry Joy Division's Ian Curtis. I think love will keep us together, not tear us apart. The Captain and Tenille will back me up on that.


Joey B said...

I'm in the process of de-accessioning myself, although fortunately I have much less to get rid of. I left nearly everything during the separation and divorce, taking only the majority of my books, art, and writing and drafting tables. Housesitting for several months found a lot of my stuff sitting in boxes and now that I'm moving into my apartment in Easthampton, I'm curious what I'll actually keep.

Llama said...

Did you hear me say at Joe's last week that Pynchon is author of the only book that I've ever *stopped* reading?

Alison said...

Nice post Jim.

I am in the process of getting rid of things too. The first on my list is all of the crap in my computer.

I have a garage to sort out.

Living out of a car for months will teach you a thing or two about not needing so much suff.

Dad said...

So you link to my website, a pure example of Mammon!

Oh well, I'm unloading stuff too, but not as thoroughly as you appear to be.

Wednesday's Korner said...

I purged 7 shopping bags of clothes at the end of 2009. It felt really wonderful despite the fact that so many were those outfits that were part of a rite of passage or two. It was very merciless and several neighbors who saw me hauling it out to a friend's car were inspired and admiring that one could possibly find it in them to do it. Seven bags of it to Community Thrift where it allows one to choose the nonprofit the sales will go towards when or if sold. I chose the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

I can't find it in me to purge a lot of books and music, though. Like you said, if not autographed or 1st editions or rarities, you're not going to make any money on them when you're trying to scrape together the rent.

The books you mention that you never cracked open--it's tough because there's some sort of obligation. I tried to resell some unread hardcovers in the late '90s, into the '00's for years using Amazon Marketplace and I couldn't understand how people made any money by selling for a penny new with jacket books that I was selling for $5. One or two made sales because I have a 100% positive seller rating, but so many never sold and I let the listings expire.

I have joked with people that I refuse to bring them to Amoeba Records to have them insult me by guesstimating a weight of the CDs and giving me a dollar a pound for them. I worked hard to earn the money to get them. I know it is outdated to still have a CD, but the MP3 version sounds terrible and I just refuse to settle for something inferior. Plus in 20 years, CDs will be gone and the out of print music not available digitally will be worth something, won't it?

Bob Neill said...

You're welcome. And the link you've attached to my name sends your readers to Mammon!

Keeping your wallet in your pocket may help one save his own soul but it may do the opposite to his community, which depends on his buying stuff, if not in excess. I find the whole experience of getting rid of stuff pleasurable in a different way than acquiring it. But I also know that behind it is the whole ethic of purifying and simplifying, which in the end amounts to reduction, emptying out, leaving...what? The smug satisfaction that we are purer than thou? That we are closer to God/god because now we can get through the needle? All of this said, the wonderful image in WALDEN of the guy coming down the road with all of his earthly possessions piled on his back is compelling. But is it more compelling than the Puritans emptying their churches of all of the cool icons and stained glass windows the Catholics and Anglicans get? Getting rid of stuff needs to be under as much control as piling stuff on!

Glad you're back at blogging, no one does it better.


iris said...

Hey Jim....I think we are having a similar experience....I just started up a new shop...primarily selling all my "stuff" odds and ends... that have been in storage for the last 10 years !!!! YIKES...weird looking threw all of it and gladly selling it to others...come by some's called AULD SCHOOL VINTAGE...376 Pleasant st. in the old Memory Lane Antiques space...out side of the madness and mayhem of downtown NOHO...maybe I can sell some of your stuff....tell your friends and hope all is well with you otherwise....Nina

Anonymous said...

Worth the wait... Thanks for writing. Richard

jg said...

Good to have you back, Jim, and in such fine fettle.