ON THINGS WE DON’T NEED

When I broke up housekeeping back in June of ’06 to start my adventure as a sorority house mom, the first thing I did was go through my 3000-square foot house and analyze every single item.

To my surprise, only a few things really stood out — a three-drawer, birdseye maple lowboy (that’s a 3-drawer set of dressers for the uninformed) with a 4’foot mirror that hangs over it — that my great-grandparents brought over from England. When they died in an accident in New York, my grandmother took the set with her when she was relegated to Richwood, WV to live with her uncle who owned Birch River Lumber company. At 14, she became their bookkeeper (today’s equivalent of a corporate accountant), met my grandfather, and the rest was history. There’s also a secretary that my cousin Nancy has. Both are treasured for so many reasons.

There’s a rocking chair the guy I lived with in the late 60’s through ’75 gave me. It plays a major part in a mystery short story I wrote that might become a book. But wherever I live, it’s not a home until that black rocking chair with the worn-to-the-original-paint arms and edges claims its rightful place. It’s in storage now in LA. I feel lost without it.

If my CHS’ers remember Reuel Sherwood from class of ’63, HIS uncle Reuel (my grandmother’s brother – you might remember him as “Cap” Sherwood, the shorthand-writing court reporter) brought a scarf back from the Phillipines he’d purchased while stationed there during the Spanish-American War. It’s framed, and also holds a place of honor in my heart and on my wall (when I have one) — along with the elaborate mirror my mom and dad were given as a wedding present. Once again, they’re in storage and I can’t wait to see them hung again — hopefully the mirror will end up over a fireplace where it belongs.

Of course, there were pieces of Abbi’s artwork (she’s conceptual; I’m “see the tree, paint the tree”) and mine, jewelry, etc. And boxes of scrap-bookable-memories separated by stages of Abbi’s life: baby, kindergarten, gymnastics, elementary, middle school, high school, and college, along with a myriad of cheer and dance uniforms ranging from school to competitive to collegiate to professional. And her multiple National Championship and All-American stuff. Those need to get into scrapbooks so I can pitch the rest. When finished, they will belong to Abbi. We’ll go through the rest of the stuff together so she can decide what’s important enough to keep. They’re important to me, partially because my mom didn’t keep anything from my childhood/life. But, I’m thinking Ab’s collection will be a lot smaller than mine when we’re through.

Some of the things that were previously “important” went along with everything that didn’t follow me to California…to my favorite charity, Other Options. Would I ever need my grandmother’s silverware again? Was it important enough to schlepp clear across the country when I’d never need/use it?

Every time I’ve moved, I’ve culled more belongings. When I left Alpha Phi three months ago, I filled a 5′ tall box for donations. Now, such a short time later, I’m doing it again.

Abbi’s year-old business is turning a profit and supporting itself. But it’s not completely supporting her yet. I had a long talk with her, made her look me in the eye so she knew I was serious, and told her that if she wants to sell granny’s dresser/ mirror and anything but Joey’s rocking chair, I’d be fine with it. And I am.

I look at my friends in their beautiful big houses and yachts with all the superfulous items sitting around –chatchkies is the Yiddish term — little collectable figurines, decorative vases; basically stuff.  I mean, all that of it  meant something to us at one point in time or it wouldn’t be there in the first place. But how much of it would really matter if it were blown away in a tornado, crushed in an earthquake or destroyed in a fire? What would you be digging through rubble praying to find?

I challenge you. Go through your home and examine every single item. Some things will force you to pick them up and bring tears to your eyes.  Others, you’ll look at and not even remember where they came from — even though they’ve been in plain sight.

It’s spring cleaning time. Start pitching the things that are of no value to you mentally. Sell some of the stuff that has value, but perhaps to someone else. Donate the rest. I was surprised at all the shoes I hadn’t worn for years but refused to part with because I paid too much for them. They ended up in that 5′ box at Alpha Phi. (OK. I kept the Wee-Juns.)

I hope to someday be in a position when I’m not owned by anything. I don’t know why it’s become so important to purge my life of “things,” but every time I do, it makes me feel more free. Though I’m ready to find out where I live, I don’t want to be tied down by objects.

I’ll never own anything attached to the ground again. Owning a house again holds no appeal….maybe if I could find a house like the one in “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir,” where I could hear the surf every day, walk on a beach, and be on a bluff just high enough that the waves wouldn’t crash on me personally, but other than that???? Now a  boat? That might be different. But there’s not much room for chatchkies on a live-aboard. You don’t want things falling off shelves when nature takes its course.

It’s the people I miss. If I’m going to officially live someplace, I can’t wait to establish roots, find a writing community, join my alumnae association, make real friends, and embrace relationships again. It’s funny. After living all over the world, the only places that really felt like “home” were Denver and Berkeley. Yet, I have no desire to return to Denver. I’d go back to the Bay area in a heart beat. Hell. I’d get in a monkey knife fight to live there again…..spend rainy days on my computer in the cafe at Book Passage in Corte Madera talking to random people who meander in and out, re-join my beloved Sisters in Crime and Left Coast Writers, live in Uggs, and drink at Izzy’s after book signings. Or not.

If it’s my lot to buy a box on wheels (Should I get my girls together and paint a VW bus?) and travel the country, simultaneously writing two fun books some of you already know about, that will be my home. I could spend time on the road  re-establishing relationships that could hopefully become friendships. You guys could even travel with me — even for a short time to visit campuses in the area for research (part of which would require drinking in college bars) and to be my designated photographer. And Crislip and I still have mining for gems in North Carolina on our “do it together” bucket list. God, I love that girl.

I’d like to reconnect with my cousin, Reuel. And spend time with the girls I wanted to see when I signed up for the Myrtle Beach trip last summer.

Hopefully, I could find some of our old military friends…..or search the whole damned country until I find Jimmy Milbourne and Willie Fenwick — two very close friends I’ve lost and miss on a regular basis. I’d like to spend some time in Oklahoma with my alumnae gals drinking Sarah’s margaritas, with my “kids” who are now lawyers, teachers, mommies, one who just made the 89’ers baseball team,  and with Mary and Lena and their horsies. Watch the crazy crew Dayna and Micky put together to play competitive kickball followed by drinking on the weekends. Lie on beaches. Visit Charleston as an adult with a much healthier self-esteem than the one who ran away from home at 21 because she felt she didn’t belong. There are people I wish I’d known better, but didn’t think I was good enough.  The Mind of Ann was a very unhappy and lonely place in those days.

Two major new insights have become parts of my life during the last six years:

The lyricist for my punk rock band, Kill the Complex, wrote a song called “Soundtrack” that was on their Butane album.

Here’s the beginning (I may have a couple of words wrong):
“You know that song — you’ve heard the song before, but you don’t know where you heard it. The song sings to you; it makes total sense, too, but there’s one line that doesn’t. That never happens to me. I write my own songs. That’s all I wanted anyway — to be the creator of the soundtrack of my own life.”

What a concept — orchestrate my own life. Not be squeezed into anybody else’s mold. Not have to pretend to be someone I’m not and say what I’m expected to say. Be true to myself, and live the life that a) was chosen for me, or b) I have chosen — without concern for others’ perception or judgment of that life. “That’s all I wanted anyway — to be the creator of the soundtrack of my own life.” That’s so powerful. Not a path many choose. Thank you, Dann. Thank you, Kill the Complex. That song was written for me.

The second has become my mantra over 6 years of watching girls covet designer purses, flaunt expensive clothes, and make “things” their top priority. Paraphrasing GaGa, “They were raised that way.” Wait till you read the chapter in my book about the parents who flew in from Thailand the same day their precious daughter discovered that all the belongings she’d put in an unauthorized place over semester break were donated, because they were considered abandoned. I’ll never forget momma bird saying, “My poor baby. Her heart, her soul in her clothes.” How very sad is that.

So in my life, “Things are to be used, and people are to be loved.”

I can live without the third candle from the left. But friends? People I care about? No contest. You’re important to me. I hope I’m important to you.

So, until my special Holiday edition on Monday,  pitch some crap, see how it makes you feel, and please have a safe weekend. I hate the Good Old U S of A’s tradition that is three-day versions-of-New-Year’s-Eve-Amateur-Hour.