Life seems to come in fits and starts. I doubt my experience is unusual in that regard. I seem to uncover truths, meaningful to me in certain moments of clarity, which lead me to a deeper understanding (or the illusion of a deeper understanding) of self; moments like lighthouses defining just enough of the world to make it through dark narrow passages, and then I exist, sailing with that new knowledge to the next uncertain moment, to the next challenge, the next passage, the next truth. These between times, they can feel like a destination. I keep in mind, to the extent that I can, they are not. That becomes clear enough when the next moment settles down on me. Or smacks me right in the face.
The moments do not come or pass in a linear fashion.
The moments come in their own time at their own pace.
I remember at the time of my second divorce, hearing that processing and getting past a broken up relationship may take up to twice the length of time the relationship existed. If we had been together ten years, it might take twenty years to fully heal from the wounds. To recover, as it were. This expectation seemed believable, if hard to comprehend. I found a kind of comfort in knowing that someone had put effort into studying the phenomenon of getting over a breakup, and having a piece of knowledge to use, like a lighthouse.
It’s been about sixteen years at this point. I think I’ve just begun the process of recovery.
I believe I’ve found a deep truth in the idea of recovery taking twice as long as the trauma. In fact, I think I’ve been living my life sixteen years behind. It feels like sixteen years ago more or less, I hit the pause button. The button didn’t freeze me; I didn’t cease existing. Within me, wheels turned wheels, gears gnashed, apertures opened and closed, fluids flowed and many things and people and events changed me. Yet, to a degree, the world was a picture in a frame, and I was a visitor with a pass, making my way through a gallery of my own curation.
I was newly single, twice divorced. I had just gotten sober, ending an even longer relationship. I lived in a house quickly defined by what was missing. I was as sane as the newly sober may be accused of being. I had no job, though the rent was still due at the beginning of each month. What I had left wasn’t much, but enough to sell in order to pay rent for a while.
I can see now that I tied myself to few, but indeed some of the things I sold. I can see now, one thing in particular I sold which impacted me to this day, today, where I am in that state between the between times, at the moment of growth, in the midst of it right now as I write.
It was a poetry collection. Not only poetry, but primarily poetry: rare items, signed first editions, ephemera; a collection I started putting together around 1989 or 1990, and continued while I worked in a college bookstore in Syracuse, and then while I was in my MFA program in Boulder. I had amassed a sizeable collection of unique works which I both prized and used. I used them in my craft of making poetry, they were tools. They inspired, they were reference, they were lighthouses themselves as I made my way carefully in the dark waters of writing poems.
I can remember justifying the sale. I needed to pay rent. I looked for jobs, but at that point in my life, I wouldn’t have hired me. I wasn’t using drugs or drinking, but everything around me was falling apart. The entire world I’d created with my partner crumbled. Anxiety grew proportionally with the nearness of the first of the month, and rent being due. Deciding to sell the collection was easy. I was 36, I was comfortable with the idea that I had lots of time for poetry. And I’d never been much tied to things. Still aren’t.
The collection fit into seven large cardboard boxes. I looked up rare booksellers, found what looked to be the best one down in Pioneer Square, and I took it all down. After parking, I used a hand truck, and loaded most but not all of the boxes (they didn’t all fit), and pushed them down the uneven sidewalk to the dealer. The look I received upon entering with the rolling stack, asking if I could sell some books let me know he assumed I should have gone, rather, to Half Priced Books with whatever I had brought in. But then he opened the top box, and looked inside. Signed Allen Ginsberg. Signed Ferlinghetti. Anne Waldman. Philip Whalen. Letterpress printed Lew Welch broadsides, first edition Raymond Carver, Kurt Vonnegut. It was primarily post-WWII, primarily poetry, and it was heavily focused on Modernist poets, the Beats, post-Beat hippie literature, and my particular love of the fiction of Vonnegut, Brautigan, and Robbins. The dealer asked if each box was like this top one. Yes, and I have three more in the car, I said.
What I can look back now and see is that when I left there with one hundred dollars cash for each of the boxes, I was still connected to them. For sixteen years I’ve made my way around Seattle, around the entire nation, with a thread connecting me to that sale of those boxes of books. A thread that won’t snap. One that can stretch and stretch, and ultimately reach its limit before it must contract, pulling me and that sale of my collection back together again like any two things connected by elastic. Sixteen years compresses in an instant and there I am with that sale slapped against my face.
Except there are no books. The past is the past, the books are gone. And yet the sale hits me with the weight and force of seven heavy, fully loaded boxes. They were my tools. I was a poet, still starting a career as someone making poems, and I got rid of all of my tools. I got rid of all of those things, among the few things I’ve ever really tied myself to. In the midst of a hard, confusing, scary, time in my life I sold a very important part of me for $700. And I look back on my career as a poet thus far, and can see that for about sixteen years I’ve been in a between state. Waiting for a moment of clarity. Like realizing I’m tied to that sale like a body tied to a concrete block plummeting endlessly down.
Time to cut that line. I’m not sure what comes next other than even more poetry. But it feels good to have found another layer to peel away. It always feels good to peel away the layers though it may sting at first. Building a new collection will help.
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