On books and homesickness

I came to England with very little in the way of stuff. Because of the always strict airline restrictions, I had two suitcases and a backpack to carry into my new country.

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The sum total of what we brought to England. Two suitcases and a backpack each. After 24 hours in transit, it felt like too much.

I gave away or sold the majority of my things. Most of my furniture and kitchenware went to the Women in Need Society.

And I don’t miss the furniture or the knickknacks or even the art collected over the years. I don’t miss the bed or  even the clothes I didn’t bring. I don’t even miss most of my books.

When I was in the process of giving books away, I was asked again and again how I could stand to see them go. Actually, it was great. I believe books want to be read, and I enjoyed having friends and strangers  come over to my apartment to take away as many as they liked. Watching people get excited over great finds, sharing my story of where a particular book came from, it was a joyful experience. It is the poet’s economy: I give books away freely, knowing that others make their way to me in kind.

I did keep back a few books, mostly those authored by friends, chapbooks or out of print volumes that would be impossible to find again, and a few books that are just special to me. But I left them in storage in Canada. Books, after all, are heavy and awkward to carry in luggage with weight restrictions. I put priority on things I would need in my daily life to get started in a new country: clothes, winter gear, family photos, and things that would be hard to replace, like my derby gear and team memorabilia.

And giving away so much brought with it a feeling of unburdening. I felt absolved. I went through so many things that were meaningful to me, but no longer had space for. I grew up a collector from a family of collectors: coins, stamps, model horses, hockey cards, at one point or another I’ve had hundreds of each of them on display. Even as a less collection-oriented adult, I have always had bookcases stuffed with books and drawers full of “maybe I can reuse it! for crafts!” junk. As it turns out, I am not as attached to stuff as I thought I might be. The constraints of traveling felt liberating. (This is not true for everyone, of course. My traveling companion felt much the opposite having come to Canada and carefully curated a collection of weird and cool clothes and objects, he was devastated at giving up so much of it. The difference, perhaps, between mindful acquisition and gradual accumulation.)

Now I am trying to maintain a rule only bringing objects into my home that I love and would bring with me anywhere in the world. Or objects that are reusable and could be used again by someone else when I am ready to move on again.

But, that said, there are a few things that I do miss. My yoga mat. My ukulele. But  there is a difference between missing and longing, and these are things that will come back into my life with no loss for it not being that specific yoga mat or that individual ukulele.

But I am homesick for two particular books: NourbeSe Philip’s She Tries Her Tongue, Her Silence Softly Breaks and Erin Mouré’s Sheep’s Vigil by a Fervent Person. I miss them in the way I miss the early afternoon light in my apartment ,the walk along the river  to see the beavers in their dam and the bunnies in the park, the way people on the street say “hello”, and easy conversation with my friends. It is not the accumulation of things that I miss, it is the specific words that express ideas and anxieties. The familiar rhythms of poems that I turn to again and again, the pages soft and worn in the corners. The shape of the poems on the page, the tingle of poetry that works, and is working, and expresses, and emotes. And I feel sheepish that I feel this nostalgia, and that it wasn’t obvious from the start.

 

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