Friday, March 9, 2012

Cleaning House

I don't know if it was the armed robbery, the drug bust, or the escaped boa constrictor that did it for me. The apartment complex I live in had been going downhill for a while. Crime has been spiking all across New Hampshire (thank you very much, Bill O'Brien), and it finally hit close to home a couple of weeks ago. Nothing happened in my building, of course. My building is mostly Asian immigrants. But I walk through the same parking lot that the guy in the newspaper was jumped in a lot of nights, and management decided to raise our rent to a level I consider unreasonable given what we put up with here, so Kari and I had had enough. We're moving. It's too bad. I like my apartment a lot. It's been very good to me. Plenty of space to move around, plenty of light, and a place to really call my own. After each of my parents moved one too many times, my entire life is contained within these walls. Every memento, every artifact of every childhood memory. Close to a thousand books. Over 10000 individual songs, whether in MP3 format or (in most cases) on a physical legitimately-bought CD. DVDs. School projects. Pictures. Gifts. Greeting cards. An entire house worth of junk.

I'm not sure when I first realized I was being overwhelmed by all my stuff. I like to think of myself as a good Buddhist, but there is a certain materialist streak to me that takes a certain pleasure from having stuff. When it comes entertainment, I can be quite like a dragon and his hoard sometimes. Over the years I'd come to regard my stuff as kind of a physical record of my life. Songs, or pictures, or movies became representations of memories. It was as if everything I saved was some sort of magic talisman that could take me back to some moment in the past. I still don't see anything wrong with it, but a problem soon emerged.

See, I have this new job. Well, it's not really a job yet, but it's the closest thing to work I've found in about eight years, it's fulfilling, it's useful, and it will eventually pay very well. What it is exactly probably deserves another post, so for the sake of argument, please take my word for it for now. This job comes with a boss who is dedicated and invested in me, and developing me into something resembling a professional, and this is where the problem has emerged. The thing is, I'm incredibly disorganized. What's more, my own personal disorganization is reflected in the profound disorganization of my stuff. This was bound to happen sooner or later, I suppose. It was time to organize my life, and that meant starting by cleaning up all of my stuff.

I started with the music. I used to be obsessively into metal. I've written about this before. Something about the intensity of it, the loudness, the way it conveyed emotions in such a blunt, penetrating way. There was a time in my life when I found what most others regarded as noise truly beautiful. Back when I was mostly using Windows, I used a twelve-year-old version of Winamp in which you had to manually create and tag playlists and files yourself. There was no search function. Don't ask me why. I came to realize very quickly in this endeavor that I was doing a lot of things out of habit that were profoundly inconvenient or profoundly stupid or both. Rhythmbox for Ubuntu couldn't even find half of my files (and bear in mind half of 10,000 is 5,000, so that's quite a lot of music). Most of them didn't even have tags. Multiple genres and wildly different bands were lumped in together in a very crude alphabetical system, most of which wasn't even really in any semblance of order beyond the file with the band's name on it. I knew I was going to have to get rid of a lot of this stuff. And to each song was something from my past. To delete the file, to pack up and sell the CD would be to delete a part of my past as well. Maybe not literally, but emotionally, this collection was a complete record of the past twelve to thirteen years of my life.

There were songs here I hadn't touched since 2001. Albums I didn't even know I owned. Some, like the black metal from the 90s (Emperor, Mayhem, Dimmu Borgir, and the like) were surprisingly pleasant. Others (melodic death metal from 2002 onward) were extremely painful. In short order I became acutely aware of how connected my memory was to sound. Some albums, even though they could be downright melodic and smooth were physically painful to listen to. Music to me is everything visceral about life that can't be put into words. To listen to something, I mean truly listen to it and then choose whether to keep it or delete it was truly to choose which parts of my past to hold on to or let go of. IT was strange at first, but as I pushed forward, the sensation became easier and easier to handle. Towards the end, I was selling/deleting/getting rid of entire volumes wholesale. Ditto for my books and my DVDs. When all was said and done, a third of my music, more than half my DVDs, and a good fourth of my books were gone. I'd thrown out entire boxes of junk. My life was on its way to becoming ordered, after so much clutter and chaos of both the physical and mental sort.

If I've learned anything over the past two years, it's that it's best to travel light through life. Baggage comes in many forms, and sometimes to let go of your past is to literally let go of something. I get a strange satisfaction from that. It's one I never even knew I could have. All those awkward, lonely years where I was filled with rage and desperation--I don't need them anymore. Why keep them around? Not having them around only serves to make the memories I do keep (browsing the metal section at Newbury Comics for obscure titles, those brief moments when I was seventeen when I could actually be true and honest with myself) all the more precious.