Call Me Ishmael

Part of moving to another continent requires violently attacking your nostalgia, because you (read: I) don’t want to pay cash money to ship a dirty Cabbage Patch Kid with no shoes to another country so it can continue to sit at the bottom of a box in the back of your closet.

After all, I am now old,* old enough that I have things in boxes that I’ve blindly moved from apartment to apartment for 20 actual years; cardboard-bounded black holes of memory that I haven’t opened in as long. I don’t think the past 20 years would have been measurably different had I displayed my stuffed blue penguin or the sheet music for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” so I can probably do without them.

While I was sorting through my boxed life experience, I found a cache of essays written for Advanced Placement English** in my senior year of high school. It was taught by Dr. Delaney, who had an auburn Alex Trebek-style mustache and an unnatural love of Moby Dick,*** but was a great teacher in spite of those things. At the end of one essay on I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings — I got a B+ — I found this note:

Michelle–

You should have kept the original wording of the intro paragraph, because you have earned the right to write in fragments. Your writing has begun to show confidence, which breeds risk-taking, resulting in your developing a style unique to you. Keep it going.

– Dr. D.

It made me feel feelings. I think I have kept it going; more importantly, I still love it.

Thanks for the push, Doc.

*A bajillion years old.

**If you would like to read my thirty-page final paper, “Negative Utopias and the Human Spirit,” I will happily send it to you. I’m sure it’s full of profound insights of the kind that only a 16-year-old can generate.

***And I say this as a person who actually enjoyed Moby Dick.

——

Update! The dog has claimed the stuffed blue penguin as his own, and I find an odd sense of comfort in that. Since it has now become useful again, it can stay.

14 Comments

  1. I’m trying to live minimalistic (I know the word doesn’t exists) since moving to a smaller 3 bedrooms house near the city. Still, my garage doesn’t house the car but lots of things I (still) think I cannot say goodbye to yet, like a collection of silk flowers which have cost fortunes but I like them because they look real and don’t die. I love things that stay the same for always; must be from some childhood trauma I still don’t manage to give a proper place yet.

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  2. After moving from the US, to Germany, to another part of Germany, back to the US again, then to a house across town, I finally opened a box that had been packed before I moved overseas in the first place. In it was a cigar box, inside the cigar box was a mummified frog. To this day I haven’t the foggiest notion how or when that thing got there, but I do now at least look in all the boxes after a move before I shove them indefinitely in the back of a closet.

    This has nothing to do with anything except to say, get rid of all that crap before you carry it across the world twice. If you aren’t going to unpack it at the other end, you really don’t need it.

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  3. The problem I have is books. I can’t get rid of books. Part of me always wonders what if I need it later on. Of course that later on hasn’t arrived yet and I have books stashed away that I haven’t got room for in my bookshelves. Maybe I should go through some of those boxes….

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  4. Been there, left a lot of it. When we moved from the US to the UK, we had to get radically unsentimental. Most of what we left behind (gave away, sold, very occasionally threw away) we don’t miss. With a few things we miscalculated and I miss them, but hell, it’s not a tragedy, it’s proof that symbols aren’t some literary construct but a real force in our lives.

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  5. I’m already trying to come to terms with re-fitting everything in my suitcase, and making sure it’s under 50 pounds,and I don’t move back for a few months. I’m impressed that you’re taking the time to sort through real momentos. I’m still not ready to part with my stuffed animals and term papers.

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  6. Awww!!! That’s so sweet! It always makes me leap for joy a bit inside when I go through old stuff find inspiring comments from former teachers like that.

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  7. Dear Ishmael,

    I’m a big fan of boxed memories. Perhaps because the ones in my brain are so intermittent…or transient…or moth eaten. I guess I hope I don’t have to leave the continent any time soon. Best of luck with the move and may teachers continue to praise your precocious talent. Though, at what age are we no longer eligible for precociousness?

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      1. I started photographing the marginalia I noted in my college copy of Moby Dick, because the level of pretension and sarcasm from a 19-year-old is absolutely unprecedented in the world of letters. I’m thinking a Jackass Undergrad Tumblr.

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  8. I’m going through the same exercise of chucking stuff out prior to a move from UK to NZ. I too have still-packed boxes that haven’t been unpacked in several previous moves. I wish I’d done it years ago. Everyone should have a review once in a while, “Would I pay to ship this crap half-way around the world? No? Well, why am I giving it house room then?”

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