It’s All Relative

July 16, 2008, 1:42 pm
Filed under: 1

I have started selling my books. As I get closer to moving in the fall I am reconsidering what exactly I want to be carting around with me.
My bookcases have stood full – at least in my mind – since high school. Since I first saw a unique sort of power in books, since I first began to use them as an extension of myself. The idea of knowledge sitting – frozen – waiting to be enacted in the world has always been miraculous to me. For a long time I’ve bought books I wanted to have read, books that seemed important to the me I hoped to be. As though I too was merely awaiting the right catalyst for fearless and bold action.
Buying books for classes, I would wander the aisles – venturing beyond the limits of my own major or year – and end up at the register with as many books from other classes as from my own. I bought them because I had heard of them or because I knew they related to something else I had interest in. I bought them because owning them made me feel bigger, smarter, more worldly. They formed a small, respected but conquerable kingdom.
That’s what is hard about selling these books. As I sit in front of these shelves and pull them apart I’m confronted with the ideas of the things I thought I’d do, of the person I thought I’d be and the person I have actually become.
This is not to say I’m disappointed about my present, only that I think progress requires focus. I think the future requires discarding the leftover daydreams of an older self.
When I step back and look at it – at six full shelves stretching six feet across the wall and seven feet up – there’s only a few things here that I have returned to often enough to really demonstrate their importance. My possessions here are mostly aspirations. They are thoughts and hopes and wouldn’t-it-be-nice concepts of some future where I have the time and space and interest to read an entire collection of Nietzche. And not even because I want to read Nietzche, but because I wanted to be the kind of person I always thought did.
Harder still are the books here I have earnestly and lovingly read, that I know I won’t touch again. The ones filled with my highlighting and post-it flags, circled chapter assignments in the table of contents. Marred with margin notes and coffee stains – they’re not even in good enough shape to sell. It’s only the integrity of this process that dictates their disposal. I’ve held these because of pride. The books that I know are not important for what I imagine them to be, they are important for what I did with them and what that doing showed me.
But important as they are or proud as I may be, I’m holding them for the past, not the future. And I believe it’s necessary to release that. I need to open the space that I want to fill with this next chapter of my life.
I am releasing weight. Physically, as this bookcase slowly empties, and mentally as I work at deconstructing the frames of these past portraits of myself. The kind of swift and directed action I crave can come only from a self unburdened by all these old definitions and soft intentions.
I used to believe that honesty just meant telling the truth. Dishonesty was most unforgivable in how simply it was perpetrated and, therefore, avoided. But in deconstructing these past ideas of myself, as I linger over what I thought was important, what I thought would be fulfilling, the difficulty isn’t speaking the truth, it’s knowing it.
Knowing the future, it seems, is mostly a matter of knowing the present and that’s harder than it seems. Perhaps impossible when you can’t or won’t stop carrying around the past. So I’m mailing mine away, volume by volume. And if each book mailed away doesn’t show me my present, it at least makes space to imagine myself all over again.


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