I just told someone the storage unit was “dangerous territory.” He asked if I meant snakes or memories. Well, we ain’t got no snakes.
Speaking of which, for all it’s being in the high desert and Southwestern and all, I think I’ve seen three snakes in the dozen years we’ve been here, and one of them was dead. It must just be too cold and dry. Back in Maryland, you couldn’t get halfway through doing anything around the house before tripping over a snake. I don’t know why they call it the “Land of Pleasant Living,” it ought to be the “Land of Snakes and Sweating a Lot.” We used to watch a big blacksnake eat the baby starlings from the same nest in the old redbud tree every spring. It was probably the same snake, too, unless he leased out the hollow branch.
the goddamn storage unit
the goddamn storage unit
I’m just about to lose it in
the goddamn storage unit
Anyway, I had to make room in the 10 x 20 ft. space for a few things coming from Arizona: a colonial reproduction desk with bookcase top, an antique vitrine, an antique inlaid oval table, a low oak chest, a wooden chair, a rug, a drawing table, a mess of art supplies (paints, brushes, frames, etc.), some garden tools, a couple of lamps, some paintings, a few glassware items, a couple of boxes of photos, and whatever miscellaneous crap I throw in because after all, I’m renting a 6 mpg truck and have a storage unit in Taos, so shut up. This list is way too long, I know, but most of that will likely fit in a Penske 12-footer, and if it doesn’t, sod it.
Making room was easy, too, because the place is mostly full of empty boxes like the one the Walmart microwave came in—in case I ever need to pack it up, yeah right—so this is fertile ground for weeding. And then there are the “snakes.” Even MORE fertile ground for weeding, except I’m not going to get away so easily from facing truth and moving on. I rediscovered my old bell jar this afternoon, for example, the one I stole from a pile of stuff my soon-to-be-ex-wife came with her new boyfriend to retrieve from the garage in Wharton, Texas back in 1970. It used to sit in my office on the second floor of our old farmhouse on the Eastern Shore, and—ACK! BLEG! ZAP! See???
That translates to would-have-been-paid-off-eight-years-from-now. (Aieee!) It also means a couple of acres I only hated to mow because I was too cheap to buy a decent riding mower and made do with one that broke all the time, plus a half-acre of tall, green woods with deer and flying squirrels—room to do whatever I wanted outdoors, on my own land, and no one could order me around. (Aieeee!!) Before I re-stashed the bell jar, I also remembered my separate studio, the garage, the screened porch, and my wife’s beautiful gardens, so we’re really rolling now…
(Quick, the bitter antidote!)
What the bell jar told me today was the unholy self-criticism I inherited from my parents is still there, cocked and loaded with a hair-trigger. I know that, of course, but it’s good to feel the button-push and do the little dance—works something like a cattle prod, in fact. As my late demented mother screeched into the phone a few years back after I cursed the Taos rental scene:
“You had a home, but you SOLD IT!”
As if this is some sort of a crime. Well, fuck you, I remember thinking. (Yes, I know, I know, after doing that, you’re supposed to buy another one. Well, we had to eat. So what?)
The whole point of this long exercise, this “[gasp] You’re going to do what?” thing, is (for me) to conquer fear by doing what scares me the most. Oddly, I haven’t given myself NEARLY enough credit for doing just that. Not only am I still here, but I’m happy now because I see things—isn’t that how it goes?—and have lots better manners. Besides, like the man says,
When I’m able to write like that, I feel ecstasy and unity with all Creation. It’s like an athlete performing an ‘impossible’ feat with seeming effortlessness and grace. I live for that… When I’m in that state, I don’t care about money or sex or food. I don’t care about who I am or what I am. I don’t care if I’m in the front of the line or at the very end. I don’t even care if I’m alive or dead, because it seems I’m in the same place, either way.
On this one can rely, and I am there.
You are “there.” I remember most of it. I also remember you telling me NOT to retire in Taos. So, I have retired in Colorado Springs and just got a JOB in Taos. Truly! So, now I am moving to Taos NOT to retire but to teach at the Roots and Wings Community School. Yipee! We must meet up sometime. My Dubuque husband wants to talk Dubuque with your wife. Hang in there!
“Please mom, don’t go now” I just can’t handle it. But she did and then the great initiation into eldership began. Closing accounts, paying bills, arranging a funeral, driving back to Taos for two days to do what I needed there and then back to Denver, getting a storage unit, sifting through papers and photos, emptying the apartment, and taking loads of stuff back to Taos. Most of it is still in my garage. Four years later I may be ready to deal with it . Who ever warns us that becoming the last generation is possibly a the biggest most dangerous initiation of all.
Snakes, a different kind, but snakes, nonetheless.
The discipline required—watching those thoughts and objectifying the “bad” ones, i.e. that ain’t me—is frickin’ enormous, and without a doubt, precisely why my life has played out in this way.
My father always used to say, “A man without land is nothing.”
I don’t think it much matters what the land is – it is your own little postage stamp of the earth, from the core below to the heaven above (as the old common lawyers used to say). My father’s postage stamp in Abilene was purchased for the monumental sum of $4,500 in 1951. He sold it 30 years later for $15,000. No growth in real dollars there, but growth isn’t the point of owning land – the point is possession, attachment, independence. I bought my own first house because I was sick and tired of truckling to landlords (mine were living ones, unlike yours). Even the bank couldn’t get me down as long as I could make the payment on that place. Then time passed, and the bank lost its power when I burned the mortgage. Eureka! You gotta buy a place, John. A man without land is nothing.
Oh, don’t be silly.
I would like to have my own place again, though.
Folk wisdom often IS kind of silly, certainly exaggerated, crude and over-generalized. Intended to get attention and stick in the mind for those very reasons. My old man was capable of subtlety when he wanted to be, but not when he wanted to make a point. This one reflected a deep aspiration for rootedness and a revulsion at its opposite – borne of depression-era hardships and the deprivations of life in the military. Anyhow, a place of one’s own is what most of us want, if in a more nuanced way.
Most of the people on the planet don’t “own” where they live, I’ll bet…
I sort of meant to be giving you moral support in the quest. It would be “exhortation”, I suppose, if you were really content with non-ownership, and if the point of my remarks was to change your mind. But a faithful reading of your writings on the subject by even a non-empathic guy like me brought your point of view on this pretty well home. Indeed, it warmed me up to the subject matter, and out came those recollections, flawed as they may have been.
What’s this about cattle prods and warrior energy?
Certain issues drive one to expanded self-awareness in order to survive. A warrior’s cause. Great effort, great reward.
Please tell me why we keep other people’s junk to bring us bad memories. My kids will sell it in a garage sell for nothing. I just cleaned out a china closet the other day to put some useable items up and threw away a hundred year old butter, creamer and sugar bowl from my down the road ancestors and it was really made me feel better. Why are we keeping this stuff. I also made my husband clean out that storage unit out completely and turn in the key. It was such a sigh not to be paying for stuff to be stored. Just my different view but yes I still own 4 sets of china and an ancient typewriter and a hundred year old desk and swivel chair I use to do projects. I say use it or get rid of it. I also had the duty of cleaning out of my parents pictures and stuff. I think it really messed up my mind along with making me feel bad and having bad feelings about my siblings. I have felt for you reading about your adventures going back and forth. I hope you get over it soon, it is a low place in one’s soul. Enjoy the sunshine, go on a hike, go fishing, enjoy God’s land! As the northerners say, “Forget About It!”
Now that is all excellent advice. I already have other people’s junk that brings bad memories, why should I bring back more? I think the things we’re talking about are things that make one say, “I ought to hang onto those…” for someone’s nieces or whomever. As if they really want the old stuff. In my case, the “loot” mostly reminds me how cheap & miserly some people were.
This damn business is almost over with, though. And I hope I remember what you said. My wife would agree with every word.