Home is Where the Books Are

I don’t own an excessive amount of things.  I think too many material objects weigh you down, clutter your life and cloud your conscience.  One of my favorite activities is called Ten Things, and simply involves choosing ten objects you don’t need, want or use and giving them to someone who does need, want or will use them.  I always seem to be accumulating more things:  stupid  keychains, magnets or knick-knacks handed out to promote some event or club on campus.  Those things are little but they pile up and overwhelm me.  Playing Ten Things is also a really good way to evaluate and appreciate my privilege.  It’s disgusting that I own so manythingsthat I can constantly gather bags of stuff to donate.

I play Ten Things so often, and am so against stuff that I really don’t own much.  This is handy, especially in light of being forced out of my home last week.  If I’d owned more things, this in-between-lack-of-permanence would feel even more impossible.  There are some things I’m stubborn about, though.  Namely, books.  I own hundreds of books.  Literally, hundreds.  And I’ve given away a significant portion this week, in an attempt to consolidate my collection of possessions.  I spent the evening packing the books I’m not ready to part with.  They’ve been sitting on a kitchen table all week (because I’m lucky enough to have nice, good people accommodate me) but it’s time to stick them in storage.

I know this is ridiculous, but putting my books in boxes was one of the saddest parts of this entire experience.  The presence of books, even when they’re not being touched, is extremely comforting to me.  Knowing that all those words, stories and characters are within reach is a kind of security blanket for me.

I’ve really been trying to avoid Woe Is Me thinking this week.  I’ve been trying to check my privilege, and appreciate the incredible things and people in my life.  Those things don’t change just because I’m in the midst of an extremely unfortunate and unfair situation.  But packing up my books felt like some sort of breaking point.

The course of my life (which has been full of privilege, and I do want to acknowledge that) has been different from most of my peers.  I don’t have a home, a childhood bedroom, a place to return.  I tell the people I meet that I’m from Maine, but I’m not really.  Two of my sisters live there.  My mom lives with one of my sisters.  But I’ve never lived there.  Everything I own came to college with me.  And even though things are just things, I’ve used my possessions to build my own little home here- because I don’t have a physical home anywhere else.

Obviously, things aren’t that important.  They don’t have anything to do with your character, with the meaningful bits of life.  But having my things stacked up in a storage shed has me feeling untethered in an uncomfortable way.  There’s a certain allure to the idea of being utterly free to move around, go anywhere, start new.  I don’t feel that allure.  Maybe it’s because I’ve spent my whole life feeling the tenuous strain of impermanent location, or maybe it’s because I don’t have that sense of belonging anywhere.  When folks ask where I’m from, I don’t have an answer.  I’m not from anywhere.  And that feels like a significant identity to lack.

This is beginning to feel really whiny.  I don’t want wallow in self-despair, because this isn’t that big of a deal.  In the end, I’m white, I’m middle-class, I’m about to graduate college, I’m going to graduate school… I have an overwhelming amount of privilege.  I’ve grown up in a system that favors and advantages me because of my appearance- which is the stupidest way to get ahead in life.  So, it really doesn’t feel fair to complain about feeling rootless.

tl;dr:  I miss my books because they make me feel like I belong.

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3 thoughts on “Home is Where the Books Are

  1. “There’s a certain allure to the idea of being utterly free to move around, go anywhere, start new. I don’t feel that allure. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent my whole life feeling the tenuous strain of impermanent location, or maybe it’s because I don’t have that sense of belonging anywhere. When folks ask where I’m from, I don’t have an answer. I’m not from anywhere. And that feels like a significant identity to lack.” This. So very much this.

    I have so many thoughts and feelings about this. And I want so very much to put them coherently and thoughtfully, but my brain is not functioning well enough to do so right now.

    Books, though, do make me feel at home. If I could have all/more of my books here, I would happily own no more than that which lives in my room here forever. But I own so much, still: I’m a little scarred after being forced to give so many things away in various moves (while my father gave up nothing, ostensibly stockpiling his hundreds of admittedly lightweight DVDs). I like the things I own and I like keeping them close to me. At the same time, I only purchase things I truly want. I talk myself out of most things. (Stuffed animals are my weakness. I have… a lot of them.)

    My life feels so largely composed of conflicting comparison. I want to make sense of things. I don’t want to care about possessions, but they matter in such strange ways.

    And this comment is a crazy, sleep deprivation driven comment that I may regret later. I apologize. I love you. Mostly I am just sad that you must part with your books for a while. Books are home.

    Everything will be okay!!

    • When I was younger, my best friends (twins) were nicknamed Flipper and Lassie. We were often mistaken for triplets, and I was soon given an animal nickname. It was Free Willy. I was self-conscious for YEARS about being an enormous whale (because societal beauty standards are stupid) but now I kind of feel like, HELL YES. I AM HERE. I WILL BELLY FLOP MY AWESOME INTO THIS POOL OF SUCK. YOU WILL NOT IGNORE ME. …okay, mostly I just sit quietly, but INSIDE. Inside, I am a raging whale of a woman. :)

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