Thursday, March 10, 2016

Goodbye Old Life

Decluttering has become something of a trend lately, with promises of a simpler more fulfilling life once you’re free of all your junk. But I’m not purging my things because I need more space. I have no space. I’m letting go of an entire lifetime of things because I have to.

Yesterday, I tossed 20 years of files on theater work that I’ve done since I was a teenager. Flyers from shows at LaMama and Theater for the New City and Synchronicity Space and Ensemble StudioTheater. Contact sheets from a 10-hour anti-war festival I organized back during the first Gulf War with phone numbers for Allen Ginsberg and Patti Smith. All the scripts and playbills and research for the 30-odd staged readings and short film screenings I produced for my company Direct Arts. Hard copies of grant applications, rejection letters and a few acceptances. Each file was a milestone in my life, a small symbol of accomplishment. The only file I kept was the one for my old friend James Purdy.

Today, I’ll be selling nearly 500 books. Most people know that I didn’t finish high school and I never went to college. My parents never once spent an evening working on homework with me; they can barely read English. These books were my education. Here are the books that taught me about literature, art, design, film, mythology, global politics and history. It's because of these books that I speak and think and write the way I do. The only real difference between me and immigrants working low-end kitchen jobs are these 500 books.

There are also about 5 boxes of clothes, mostly vintage and tattered. This is another way that I’ve been able to set myself apart from my immigrant roots. For better or worse, I was born with a mutant aberration that gave me a sense of style. But without any money, I’ve always had to scrounge around to realize any kind of look. So all these torn and wrinkled dresses and jackets from the 1940s and 1950s represent mild triumphs for me. A way for me to thumb my nose at consumer culture and homogeny and economic class all at once.

At times the ghoulish part of me thinks that this would be a great time for me to die or commit suicide. No one will need to clean up after me. Everything I have is gone. But sheesh, that’s depressing. (And no, I'm not that ready to end things.) 

I know that these papers and books and dresses are valuable to no one but me. And they're only valuable because they inform who I am. If all the evidence from my theater history is gone, you can't take it away from me, but how can I prove it to anyone else? But then again, why do I need to prove it anyway? I’ve always loved that random pieces of paper in an archive is called “ephemera.” Like a theater production, everything we have is ephemeral. The curtain closes and the next moment, something else is on stage. So what’s next now? The stage is swept and empty. I'm jonesing for opening night.


  1. Lighten up then load up again (different, maybe better); oh, and no dying or suicide, OK?!

    1. No physical death on the horizon (I hope!) Just metaphorical death=transformation. Hard to say goodbye to all my books though...