Saturday, August 18, 2012

Chapter 84: In Which I Discuss The Things I Cannot Live Without

This young lady Elisa Carbone interviewed me once, when I was in high school, about my writing habits. It was for her thesis at the University of Maryland. When she became a published author, my mother got a complimentary copy of Starting School With an Enemy. I find it very cool how many books she's put out in the ten years since then, and the breadth of history she covers. Kind of a Katherine Patterson vibe. I meet other authors all the time now, but it's cool to think back on the ones I encountered before they had all their success.

I no longer live in the San Francisco Bay area. As of Wednesay, I am a proud resident of Lafayette, Louisiana. Cajun country. I'll be working on a doctorate here for the forseeable future. Moving was bittersweet, because I love the energy of San Francisco. Three words: Purple Rain sing-a-long. Also, while hanging in the Mission these last few weeks, I kept randomly running into people I met over my west coast tenure (and one friend from DC who I randomly encountered). Now, as I write this, I am listening to the bullfrogs and crickets and various unidentiable animal noises of the horse ranch where I live. Yes, a horse ranch. Be jealous.

I move a lot. I don't like this fact, but at this point I follow the wind. As always, I'd acquired a ton of stuff, mostly papers, and I couldn't pack it all. I threw away every workshop critique from Mills and the Berkeley Writers Circle. By then I'd read them all, and either applied their suggestions or not. I'd kept the feedback to remember the people in the workshop. Keepsakes and momentos. But, practically speaking, I didn't need them, and stuffed the trashbag with paper.

Left the David Lee Roth and Slice shirts. After letting that hippie at my old house keep the Michael Jackson Bad Tour shirt, any of those could go, far as I'm concerned. Left a stack of CDs that I might ask someone to mail to me when it comes time to make the audiobook. Left an iPod nano. Left all those baggy pairs of pants I should have gotten rid of a long time ago. Sold an old, virus-ridden laptop to a friend of mine.

So I had to determine the Things I Can't Live Without. I'd considered getting rid of my 25-year-old copy of Legends from Fairyland, the one I had since I was a kid. I thought of giving it to Half Price Books, where some other kid would find it and discover the magic. Nope. Couldn't do it. I could easily get another off Amazon, Not now. Someday.

BTW, they showed The Avengers on the plane. Drifting in and out of consciousness while listening to one side of a broken pair of headphones is the only way to watch that movie.

Without further ado, The Things I Carried (to the airport):

-A set of Staples steno books. I bought them for a summer journalism unit I taught middle schoolers in 2006. Admittedly, I used them more than the kids. They contain early notes on stories like "Dead Teenagers" and "How Brother Roy Lost His Dog," notes from the old NCOR conference, and markered writing from the students about subjects such as Eddie Guerrero (RIP) and Runescape. Those kids are in HIGH SCHOOL now. Yep, they stay.

-A Staples notepad containing circa 2008 notes on "Graveyard Shift." Back then, Mason's was called "Dallmart." Notes from an aborted novel (one I'm starting on again soon). Some very interesting notes I took about the history of East Liberty from a Carnegie Library librarian. To-do lists. Here's an example:

Sunday 5/18/08
0. Ask Andrea for clothes
1. Talk to dad
2. Get shit from Mom's hous (sic)
3. interview prep
4. Vegan BBQ/show
5. Wine & Bike
6. Sleep
7. Go to Pittsburgh

Thinking back on that day, that's pretty much how it went.

-Bank statements. Bleh.

-Jack Daniels Sessions EP 2011 tour posters. There were so many of them, and Bay Area Alternative Press used up so much black ink, and they were so nice-looking. Finally, I had to throw out the majority and keep a few. Only 20 or 30.

-My friend Lisa's husband's violin and assorted violin books. My violin fetish has been steadily growing. I plan on self-teaching myself one day, just as I will with that acoustic guitar I mysteriously own.

-Letters from my Pittsburgh friend Amanda. I'm a horrible pen pal. But she writes the best letters.

-Copious papers from the Braddock Youth project, where I was an urban farming counselor in '09. Stage directions for a gardening video project. Supervisory critiques on the kids' performance. End-of-year superlatives. A piece of string from some AmeriCorps game. In case I ever feel like starting my own nonprofit, those scraps are the first place I'll look for inspiration.

-An awesome Jimi Hendrix hat my friend Nara left at the hippie house when she went back to Germany. I jumped on that like a dog on a newspaper.

-A large and weighty collection of keys for houses I no longer live in and cars I no longer drive.

-A Best Buy Geek Squad-salvaged collection of Microsoft Word files, circa 2006, holding about 400 pages of notes for my radio show "Fort Liberty" (it'll happen someday, I promise!).

-Programs for the science fiction conventions I've been a guest at. This includes my very first, Balticon 2010. The detergent stains on the program are part of the charm.

-Elvenslaughter Tour 2010 posters.

-My Mills diploma holder (sans diploma), a paper graduation cap-shaped fan, and Mills English department ball point pen. Total cost = $70,000.

-A small red notepad that I've had since right after FaerieCon 2008. The con where I met Wendy Pini. Inspired by the whole fairy atmosphere, I left after the last panel, bought a notebook from CVS, sat on the Chinatown bus to DC and started on a story called "The Wizard's Homecoming." It was a sword & sorcery type deal about a wizard who could change form and move through time as easily as other people breathe. He is on a mission to rescue a child, and I will definitely return to it one day. The notepad also contains notes for "When the Law Come," a New Orleans-based story called "Talkin' Monkey Gumbo," and a story called "Albino Alligators of Mississippi" that I never really finished, but I've been cannibalizing metaphors from for the last 4 years.  There is also a flier for the RNC benefit I helped organize, drawn by my good friend Eleanor, who was recently a keynote speaker at her Corcoran graduation.

-Assorted holiday cards. Nope, can't let 'em go.

-Dozens of circa 1970 and 1971 newspaper and yearbook articles from Carnegie Mellon University, photocopied by my friend Jennifer, background research for a book I will write one day that will win the Hugo and make me a millionaire.

-A copy of Coming of Age Around the World, edited by Faith Adiele, which a friend gave to me as a graduation present, having no idea that I had to read it that spring for Adiele's class of the same name. My previous copy got snatched up by one of the crackheads in People's Park when my back was turned, leaving me high and dry come classtime, which was embarrassing, since I didn't read the book. But now I can! Good stuff, so far. Also, a copy of Kingdoms of Elfin by Sylvia Townsend Warner. It reads like Lord Dunsany on crack. Definitely a future installment of Obscure Fantasy.

I see a pattern emerge: I keep the things that took the most effort. Posters, cards, letters. And I keep the things that show the personal stamp of people I love. The more I enjoyed a moment, like, say the RNC benefit, the more inclined I am to have a keepsake. And I keep anything I feel might be useful for a story down the line.

I had a 9-hour layover in Houston International, thanks to general incompetence. I was afraid they'd lose my luggage and, wonder of wonders, they did. Standing alone in Lafayette Regional with nothing but a laptop, some audiobook recordings, and a violin to my name, I thought about how I would be fine. I could survive without all that stuff. Even the clothes could be easily replaced. Our keepsakes are not our past. They are merely reminders. Moot point, however, as the luggage came over on the next flight.

Come the next time I move (hopefully no time soon) who knows what will be in my suitcase.

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