Journal for September 28, 2010
I am enjoying the unmistakable sound of Creedence Clearwater Revival spill from my speakers as I sit staring, once again, at this blank page. I opened the Word document over two hours ago and got as far as the heading. I pulled out Brazier’s book, flipping through the pages in hopes of inspiration. I put the book down. I stared at the page as CCR gave way to The Beatles. Then I got up and began rearranging my bookshelves. I unpacked the last six boxes I had shipped from Nebraska, which had been sitting in a corner of my bedroom waiting until I hung two more shelves over the weekend.
All my Dharma books are on one shelf above my desk, the top shelf. With a little creative arranging, they fit into a space roughly three and a half feet long. They make for a colorful collection, mostly paperbacks, most with the marks for Shambhala, North Atlantic Books, and Wisdom Publications on their spines. I’ve probably read half of the words written in them. Several are anthologies, from which I’ve read select articles. A few are gifts I haven’t gotten around to yet. And two or three are just plain boring, but I keep them anyway, thinking I’ll get back to them someday.
The way I arrange my books is very important to me. I suppose it says something about my personality, or I want it to say something about my personality. They are grouped by category, then by size. Only the novels are grouped by author. My office takes up a corner of my bedroom, with a large bookshelf making the long leg of the L and my desk making up the short leg. The bookshelf is the longest, tallest, and deepest available from Ikea, divided into twenty-five squares fifteen inches deep.
In the upper right-most square, on a direct eye line from the door to my room, my undergraduate diploma from the University of Nebraska sits framed by its red folio. Behind it are some of my larger architecture books. Architecture books dominate the right side of the bookcase, giving way to general topic books in the center, including philosophy, poetry, memoirs, reference books, and coffee table books. The left side of the bookcase is dominated by office supplies and my school folders. The top of the shelf includes all my magazines, fiction novels, and the stuffed animals of my childhood I could not bear to part with.
The matching Ikea desk sprouts directly from the bookshelf, hiding four of the cubes beneath the knee space, a good place for loose papers, files, and the uglier binders. Above the desk are the two newly hung wall shelves, the first with my printer and office organizer full of pens, pencils, and paper pads. The one above that with the neat line of Dharma books, tallest on the right, smallest on the left, with a stack organized horizontally on the end. The only other thing on that shelf are two tattered old collars, each with a single snap-closed pouch filled with fourteen years’ worth of vaccination and license tags.
Other odd spots, nooks, crannies, and corners are filled with knickknacks. A statue of a sleeping griffon, a small gold unicorn music box, an empty vodka bottle with Cyrillic letters, a paper crane, a framed photograph of a Kuan Yin statue reflected in a pond all stand out among the colorful rows of books. An old typewriter sits on the top in the corner. My laptop on the desk rests on a large piece of granite left over from the Great Stupa of Dharmakaya in Colorado. My cat sleeps next to the keyboard I type on, every once in a while stretching and forcing me to scoot over just a bit.
I know this long description might not make a lot of sense. What is important is that every one of the things in these bookshelves is somehow important to me, important enough that I paid over a thousand dollars to have them shipped to California. I sold my car, my television, my furniture, and my home, but these things I kept. They seem like small things, physically speaking, but they are each dear to me, even the intangible things, like the music that still pours out of my speakers (America singing A Horse With No Name). It would bring me pain to part with any of them.
That leads me to wonder about the physical detritus of identity. I am very invested in that place I call ‘home,’ that physical representation of my self, that place where I feel most at ease. I gave up much of that when I came here. Logistically speaking, I have a home, but really it still feels like Harry’s home more than my home. My roommate, Harry, has been very welcoming, but what remains of my home is relegated to a single bedroom with its attached bath and closet. It’s very comfortable, and, truth is, I could live with less, much less. But I still miss what I had, not the stuff so much as the feeling I had in that place. I try to get it back by arranging and rearranging and by contemplating the contents of those shelves. I speculate on what it all says about my current level of ego-attachment.
But mostly I just wonder how much longer this missing feeling is going to last.