Sunday, August 15, 2004

Emotional Baggage

I often joke that while some people may have "emotional baggage," I have an emotional storage space where I keep everything locked away and pretend it doesn't exist. This isn't really a joke, however, I do have a storage space up in Maine near my parents summer retreat on Frye Island and it does contain an inventory of my past, packed up and labeled in boxes and crates. Or it did until last week when I finally undertook the soul-searching task of clearing it out.

When I decided to move to California, I had to stash my stuff somewhere. I came out here with only a couple of suticases and a box or two of scripts. I was starting a new life and had to leave the trappings of my former self behind. I decide to haul everything up to Maine because A) the rent was cheap and B) I had a fantasy of buying my own cottage on Frye Island someday. So in addition to boxes of books, tapes, videos and files filled with songs, stories, scripts, plays, letters, essays and articles, I also stored furniture and gadgets and clothes and kitchenware and tons of miscellaneous crap that I thought might be useful or cool to have in my imagined future home.

All that stuff has been sitting there collecting dust for the past six years while I've been busy generating and accumulating more crap out here on the West Coast. Recently my Dad built a new storage shed on the property in Maine and he suggested I sort through my stuff and figure out what I really want to keep. I could then store it in the shed instead of paying rent on it. It seemed like a reasonable idea.

To make things easier on myself I made an executive decision to give away all of the clothes and furniture. It doesn't look like I'll be buying that lakefront property anytime soon and if I do, I'll probably want nice new furniture instead of the junk I picked up off the sidewalks of Brooklyn. The one piece we will hang onto is a massive desk that my Dad got from GE about fifty years ago. The rest goes to the Salvation Army. That left me with about twenty boxes of material to go through.

Books were easy, most of the paperbacks got donated to the Frye Island library. They scored a bunch of Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Ross MacDonald, and Robert Ludlum. The keepers got shelved in a cabinet in the back bedroom at my folks house. I had a couple of milk crates full of video tapes as well. Eventually some of those will go to the library too, but many of them, such as the Elvis concert videos, had to be retained as part of my musical archive. Cassette tapes were tough. What do you do with them? I'm buying only CDs now and my car doesn't even have a tape deck anymore. I suppose I could give them away, but there are so many of them and some of them haven't come out on CD yet. Besides about half of the cassettes are rare concert recordings, including my bootleg Dylan collection and then of course there are all of the tapes of my old rock bands and my short-lived solo career. These must be retained. They went up in the loft.

Now comes the hard part: the files. I saved everything. Every draft. Every note. Every copy. Every map, brochure, movie ticket, playbill, concert poster, resume, rejection letter, list, outline. I saved receipts, postcards, birthday cards, thank-you notes, phone numbers, bank statements, bills, invoices, foreign currency...

And every single little scrap of paper held a memory, an attachment, a piece of me. Some were easier to throw away than others. And some I could not throw away at all. A thank-you note from my niece when she was eight years old. An egyptian coin. My ticket stub from the Springsteen concert in '78. I put them in an old wooden cigar box.

As for the files containing all of my written output, I tried to get rid of as much as possible, keeping only the essentials. But there was just too much of it. I realized that for whatever reason, I have to keep writing. Whatever else I do, I will always do that. I found songs I had completely forgotten about. Stories and plays and poems and ideas for movies. Color-coded notecards with jokes for my short-lived stand-up career. Pages and pages and pages of words. Words.

Eventually I had to give up and just put the remaining boxes up into the loft with the videos and cassette tapes. Next summer I'll take another stab at it. But I did make a little progress. I no longer have that emotional storage space where my past is locked away and gathering dust. What I have now is a trove of memories and a body of work. Every now and then it's good to cast off some of the old baggage that's weighing you down. But it's also good to know where you come from and what you're made of. Maybe someday I'll get that cottage by the lake where I can preserve my store of memories. Maybe not. Maybe I'll just keep a few special items in an old wooden cigar box.

Meanwhile, I've got a whole new collection of junk to go through in my apartment in L.A. I'd better get a jump on it before I have to rent another storage space.