In April 2012, to prepare for my retirement move to Sioux Falls, I decided that I was going to throw or give away at least five things a day, not counting paper memorabilia. Paper memorabilia I examined and tossed almost all. My children’s school papers, notes to me, drawings, I put between plastic sheets and sent to them. Student evaluations from 1987, most all gone, as well as research material that I will never shape and form into anything. I put my creative writing still to be polished in the file cabinet.
Old love letters from my second husband, I flung in the garbage, after tearing them up as if extracting a curse. The one from the first, I will keep for the kids so they can have a laugh. Besides it was written before he asked me to marry him. Not much romance after the wedding. I really should say, not any. I kept all the letters from my mom, grandmothers, brothers, sisters, nieces–don’t think there is one from a nephew. I didn’t throw away any pictures, except old high school classmates, for most of them I couldn’t recognize if they stood on my porch.
Every day for over a year, missing a few days here and there, I scanned the detritus that comprised my tangible goods. I sorted through furniture, knickknacks, dishes, clothes, old tools. At first it was easy. Now making choices is rather difficult.
First I tackled the double-stacked books in the eight seven-feet high bookshelves in my home and those in the four bookcases in my office. I separated the books I could live without from those I must have and those I hope to sell. A vision of mine was someday to own a bookstore slash coffee shop slash wine shop/dessert shop somewhere, but that dream has faded, for I find that I lack the energy and the desire to cater to anyone anymore.
I presented stacks of books to students as they wandered in and out of my office. One young theatre major received most of my drama books. I kept Pinter, O’Neill, Chekhov, Brecht, my collection of Shakespeare, and some other classics. I’m past directing any more; and if I ever act again it will be a final hurrah, for I really don’t want to spend five to six weeks rehearsing anything. There were two roles I wanted to do before I died–Medea in Medea and Mother in Marsha Norman’s ‘Night, Mother. I’m way too old for Medea, but if someone I trusted and admired wanted to direct me in ‘Night, Mother before I get too old to wipe spittle off my chin, I might consider it. As far as directing, I concluded some time ago in Dickinson that the way I direct is not amenable to personalities here. Ideally I prefer that actors memorize their parts before blocking begins. That way the character develops as the play develops, and the actor/character becomes a collaborator in the process. But oh, well–Been there; done that.
I’ve had successes directing. One of my former high-school students obtained her MFA in theatre; she retired before I did. Another student I directed became Miss America 1974 and sang for my wedding. She played the chorus in Anouilh’s Antigone, Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn in Music Man, Calamity Jane in Deadwood Dick, and Mrs. Wright in Trifles. When she came to Sioux Falls to see me during her Miss America tour, I met her with my three kids in tow. But I was in the middle of a disastrous marriage, and felt exposed for some reason and intimidated.
Books of poetry I kept most, except those poets with whom I still can’t connect. Fiction I gave most away, except Faulkner, Vonnegut, some books I haven’t read yet but hope to. Literary criticism, I kept most. Some history books–gone.
Boxes of books, three I think, I hauled to the library. They will be recycled or sent to those in need. Clothes I either tossed in the garbage or donated; some I snapped pictures and sold on Ebay along with the china and crockery and jewelry and shoes I no longer want or can wear.
Soon I will post an ad selling some furniture, a treadmill, a lawn mower, other garden stuff.
The problem is even though it’s becoming more difficult to find things to discard or give away, more stuff emerges hidden away in boxes, underneath steps, on shelves, things I have forgotten about. The newest piece of furniture I have is my bed, 2006. Prior to that my sofa and the entertainment center, 2002. The oldest piece of furniture I have is my bedroom set–1978. If it wasn’t for my mother’s bureau dresser and the cedar chest that I inherited and the hall table I bought in memory of my mother, I would get rid of every piece of furniture I have.
The more I discard, the freer I feel. It’s like a cloud of dissatisfaction lifts with each toss. My burdens lighten.