“Look at all your books,” said my friend. Five of us are curled up on couches in another friend’s new apartment. I haven’t seen some of these women in years.
We’ve gotten together to have a non-bachelorette party for one of us. We get our nails done, eat Indian food, and then go to S’s house for dessert. (Aside: I’ve had my nails done only once before. It’s really kinda awesome. Aside aside: Teri, my toenails are a gorgeous black/burgundy. Aside aside aside: Cougar, you were right.)
My house is, if I were to put it poetically, a Victorian cabinet of wonders. On the high shelf across from where I’m sitting now are two stacks of coffee table books, my mother’s impossibly gorgeous sewing box, a three-headed stuffed dragon, and another pile of books.
S’s house is a result of not having to incorporate her parents’ house into her own. One big bookshelf, two couches, a coffee table, a small shelf of CDs. She has very little stuff.
“How did you pare down all those books?” R asked. My nonwriter friend gasped in surprise. She thought there were a lot of books, while the writers among us knew S could have never lived thirty-some years as a writer with so few books.
R, a writer, was visibly struggling with self-hatred, while I sported a cool air of nonconformity. Of course the nonconformist air was a long-familiar defense mechanism; this conversation hit perilously close to home.
S talked about the book about tidying up, about how you should get rid of things that don’t cause you joy. That book always makes me feel like shit because there are plenty of things in my Victorian cabinet of horrors that don’t bring me joy, and not all of them are in my power to be disposed of.
And of course the topic of hoarding came up. I hate the idea that people are either OCD or hoarders. Both are mental illnesses that the average person does not have. Some people are minimalists and some are not. I am not a minimalist and the man I married is very much not a minimalist.
But you can pry my somewhat neat stacks of books from my cold dead hands. My father’s book on the Shenandoah National Park brings me joy even if I haven’t opened it in 5 years. I can’t get rid of my college editions of Shelley and Byron, I might then forget that I was an English major.
I read Gloria Anzaldua’s Borderlands in college, but by god, I’m using it in my gender studies class twenty years later. I haven’t read William Bartram in years, but I’m sure I will again. These shelves are
the results of working in bookstores for years poor impulse control a physical manifestation of my intellectual history. And I refuse to feel bad about that.
[Ed. note: Yesterday I felt bad about it. I came home and was moody and discontented because there had been such an outpouring of admiration and self-hatred at that gathering. But after a good night’s sleep, I shook off other people’s grumblings. I remembered that I am 40 and no longer have to give a fuck about what other people think. Ed. note 2: I love my friends and want them to think well of me, but I know they don’t expect me to be a minimalist. Old dog, new tricks.]