Archive for December 2019

A Clean Sweep

December 7, 2019

I’ve been gone from French Letters for a couple of months, although no longer travelling, leading one friend to point out that as far as French Letters is concerned I’m still in New Zealand. Alas, no. This is where I’ve been: a cabin in the deep woods on the island.

It all began in Rotorua, where my phone started buzzing frantically with texts telling me that my house on the island was being flooded. Everything was being taken out of the house and put in storage, and the house would be uninhabitable for months.

Of course I hopped off the ship and onto a plane out of Auckland and came back tout de suite, missing the last 11 days of my planned journey. A little cabin in the woods was offered to me as temporary shelter, and I’ve been holed up there since the second week of October. Now, in just a week, I get to move back in to my house and unpack my life.

Of course, unpacking boxes will be a huge part of that. But this is actually the opportunity to separate out my life from the stuff Shel left behind, picked over quite some time ago, with only inertia holding it in place before it was unceremoniously boxed up by strangers. Shel liked to keep stuff like: boxes of slides of photos he shot 40 years ago, redundant rolls of masking tape that are only marginally younger, books of songs he hadn’t played since the 1960s, tech-related gizmos that haven’t been compatible with anything in at least a decade, and so on. You get the picture. You probably have stuff like that yourself.

As hard as it is to get rid of your stuff, it’s even harder to get rid of someone else’s. Some of it had meaning to him, although not to me. It’s hard enough to find meaning in my own stuff, let alone someone else’s, especially when that someone else has long since left the planet and is not available to defend its intrinsic worth. Some of it, so help me, is his light bulb collection, bulbs that don’t fit any current light fixture. This is akin to that pile of keys that you don’t dare throw out, even though you have no idea what they are supposed to unlock. He had those too.

So I have decided to take the bold step of not unpacking the boxes of his stuff. Our stuff, yes. My stuff, of course. Nor will I put back into the house furniture that he brought with him when he moved across the country to live with me some 25 years ago. This feels like a fairly momentous step, one that I wouldn’t have tackled without the assistance of the flood. Silver lining.

This will, inevitably, leave numerous gaps in the house. My intention is to live with the emptiness until I figure out whether to fill it, and if so, how. After nine weeks of living in someone else’s house, furnished with their extremely modest stuff, and virtually nothing of my own except the clothing I had with me in New Zealand and a few warm winter things I scrounged from the storage unit, I feel ready to give up pretty much everything.

It amazes me how easy it has been to slip into having nothing of my own. Now all I have to do is decide what I want to keep, and where I want to put it.

In the meantime, I have some lovely pictures and tales from the part of the New Zealand trip that hadn’t made it here when my trip was so rudely interrupted. I’ll put them up here soon, as a reward for your patience.