Saturday, January 17, 2009

Former Self, In Cardboard

When we moved into this house, on March 31st, 2008, we lobbed a load of boxes into a room that is just to the right at the bottom of the cellar stairs. This room is unfinished. The prior owner put up ceiling tiles on roughly 1/3 of the ceiling, and put of 2x4 studs against portions of the foundation in a half-assed effort to finish the room. A single bare light bulb in a socket in the center of the ceiling illuminates the room. There is no light switch, and a slight twist of the light bulb is how we turn the light on and off in that room. Toward the end of moving our stuff into the house, this became the “Oh screw it!” room. Boxes of our stuff were stashed in the room in exhaustion at the end of the move. "Oh screw it, just throw it in there, we'll sort it out later" was what we said over and over in the days of the move. The boxes contained stuff that we wanted to keep but hadn’t yet decided where it would all go. Books, photo albums, two bean bag chairs originally purchased for movie nights at the dive shop—back when we owned the dive shop.

I originally envisioned this space as expanded pantry space. Todd, in his love of cooking, has been accumulating a crap-load of kitchen stuff. He now owns a slow cooker and a pressure cooker. He has lots of stock pots. He has foil roasting pans. All of these things are not used in our daily kitchen use, and we both would prefer to stash them away somewhere so they are not underfoot. I imagined this room would eventually contain racks that contained cleaning stuff, Todd’s kitchen implements, dry and canned goods, etc. We stood in the doorway of the room, looking at the enormous pile of stuff on the floor and speculated about the future of this room.

“Well, I got what I always wanted, the workshop. What’s something you’ve always wanted in a house?” Todd asked me. The way he smiled at he told me that he already knew the answer. He knew I was taking one for the team by suggesting that we turn the room into a big-ass-walk-in pantry. “How about you get the gym you always wanted.”

He excitedly walked into the room, stepped over the debris that is our stuff, and pointed. “We could dry wall in the walls, finish tiling the ceiling, put a flat screen over there, a treadmill over here….” Todd has an amazing knack for visualizing a space that I’d never seen in anyone else.

“Are you sure?” I asked him. “I mean, imagine how much we could store in here.” I stepped into the room and pointed. “Racks over here for all your big pots, a big huge cabinet over here for food…”

“No, I know you’ve always wanted a gym. I want you to have what you want too.”

Over the last few weekends I’ve been going through the boxes in the room that will become my gym. I vowed that I will not just move whole boxes into other parts of the house. I will unpack each box, and find a home for every single thing inside. My pile of papers, notebooks and texts from graduate school ended up in a pile as I unpacked the boxes. I finished my Masters nearly six years ago and since then I have not cracked open a single one of the texts I had accumulated, nor have I re-read my papers and the notations from my professors, nor have I perused any of the notes I scribbled during lectures. I knew that they had to go. I couldn’t imagine all the trappings of my former life as a graduate student taking up space in my house.

Before I recycled the pages from my notes, donated my old texts, or flat out threw away anything related to my graduate degree, I sat in one of the bean bag chairs and I read my old papers.

I don’t recognize the person who scored a 96 on a Consumer Behavior mid-term exam. I recognize her handwriting and I remember how she quizzed herself using flash cards as she walked from the Back Bay train station to the classroom on Tremont Street in Boston. She didn’t stop quizzing herself until she could rapidly recall the answer to every single question on every single card, and then she shuffled the cards and flashed them to herself again. And then again after that. I sat in my soon-to-be home gym and read the answers on the test, and wondered what part of my brain still might store that information. I held my hand over my handwritten answer and I tried to access that part of my brain and answer the question. Today I cannot answer the questions nearly as well as I had back in 2002.

Between the years 2000 and 2003, my Masters program took up a lot of space in my life. I went to class, I met people, I created presentations, and wrote papers. I studied in every spare moment. Friends and family asked me “So, how’s school going?” all the time. Normally, it’s the act of thumbing through old pictures that make me marvel at my former self. I marvel at how long or how short my hair was, or the definition in my quadriceps from my captain-of-the-college-track-team days. But this time it wasn’t something I could easily point out in a picture. I held quantities of information in my brain that I no longer think about, even though for three years the acquisition of that information was my entire life.

Who was that person that I dug out of a cardboard box? And who is the woman now who threw that person into the recycling bin?

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Blogger Unknown said...

How nice to be getting a home gym!! Can't wait to see pictures :)

I have done what you did a couple times now, most recently after my divorce. It was interesting to go back through things I deemed important enough to save at one time that were then delegated to collect dust in a box. Guess they weren't as important anymore.

January 17, 2009 at 3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, at some point you realize that stuff is just - well - stuff. The person that kept all of that stuff is still around, but the stuff can go. You've kept everything that was important - it's in your head.

January 19, 2009 at 1:44 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You know, at some point you realize that stuff is just - well - stuff. The person that kept all of that stuff is still around, but the stuff can go. You've kept everything that was important - it's in your head.

January 19, 2009 at 1:44 AM  
Blogger BJ Knapp said...

I try to clean out my clothing closet every six months, and getting rid of stuff I haven't worn in the last 6 months. I try not to get too attached, but sometimes I cannot help it.

January 19, 2009 at 9:03 AM  

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