Back in 2001, my Ohioan/Iowan/Ohioan friend came to visit me in Ithaca, and we finally figured out how to watch movies. She and I have never been on the same sleep schedule. In college, we would talk at 10:30 p.m. or so, and I would watch her face close down for the night one feature at a time: mouth slackening just a bit, eyes glazing over lightly. Finally I would ask her if she was paying attention anymore, and she would respond that she was going to sleep, and I would go back down the hall and get back to work. One morning, she turned up in my room at 4:30, having been awakened by a nightmare. I was embroiled in a nightmare of my own, trying to finish writing a paper, and she had guessed rightly that she would find me still awake. Some mornings we would run into each other as she was getting up and I was going to bed.
During overnight visits, this had always meant that we couldn't watch movies together because she would fall asleep in the evenings. But during that one visit, we realized that if we just watched movies in the morning, we'd be fine. So, each morning we got up and watched one of the movies we'd rented; at some point, we'd pause and cook ourselves some multi-grain hot cereal and then watch again. Some mornings, she'd go back to sleep afterwards, and I'd read.
This morning I realized that if I write here in the morning, I'm not going to fall asleep over my computer, and this change may need to happen for the next few days at least.
The move from Ithaca to Rochester in 2003 turned nightmarish and unpleasantly hallucinatory by the time it was all over. I'm trying to prevent that on this go-round. My hope all through the spring had been that if I needed to vacate my house, I'd do so in July so that it wouldn't run into the summer teaching I do. But some unfortunateness led me to change my mind--which I think will be for the very best, not least because when the summer teaching is over, I'll be able to get back to reading and writing without the distraction of moving thrown in for fun.
But the almost-good thing about the Ithaca-Rochester move, I can now recognize, was that its speed didn't leave me time to linger and grow thoughtful over anything I was moving. (Of course this was only an almost-good thing, as it meant that I moved some junk I didn't need or even want.) Now, on the other hand, I can go more slowly through bookshelves and, later, drawers and old boxes, realizing how many things have lain dormant for years now. I also feel a growing desire to squirrel things away--to stash stuff where, possibly, no one will see it until I come home again.
For now, I'm focusing on the logistical challenge of packing and then distributing my boxes of books. This task is the one with which I began the exodus from Ithaca, too: the morning after I'd turned in my dissertation and taken the evening off for celebrating and for trying to catch up on sleep, I blitzed my study, looking for all 200 of the library books I'd checked out during my dissertation. I filled my trunk and my backseat with boxes and with my furniture dolly, and a friend and I ferried huge boxes of books into the graduate library. It was an August Saturday, dark with an impending storm, and no one was anywhere: it was the day after the August degree deadline, and we still had two weeks before the next semester would begin. And yet the circulation worker still looked at me skeptically when I told him I thought I was going to need my own cart for everything I was about to return. Finally he rolled one out to us. About fifteen minutes later, it was full and we were on our way again.
Nothing quite that dramatic is happening here, but I am remembering what it was like to try and locate books I might need during the Rochester year--after I'd packed everything indiscriminately. And so I'm trying to separate the books I want to have in the officehouse when I return from the books that are going into deep storage, maybe for a few years. And what the process is triggering in me is a high-octane version of what happens to me in bookstores: I see books I have wanted to read, and I have to have them, because I have to read them. Never mind that I know better: I know--rationally, anyway--that buying books does not create the time or the brainspace for reading said books. I build my library, and I feel just that little bit closer to having read what's in it.
On this packing excursion, I find myself thinking, "Oh, I can't pack that. Not yet, anyway." And so three shelves get cleared but another gets filled with the things that can't get cleared--things that, so far, tend to be either books directly related to my research (check!) or schlocky sensation fiction from the 1860s and 70s (double-check!) or prose works by poets meditating on writing and life.
When I moved out of the house in Rochester, I hired professional movers for the first time. As they carted out box after box of books--we're talking two tons of books, and this was three years ago--one of the guys hauling my stuff around realized that I'd moved it all down into the first floor of the house. "Do you work out?" he said. "How did you do that?" As I start lugging boxes containing 40, 50, even 60 books, conveying them from room to room or from building to building, I know at least part of the answer: it's not that I was so super-strong (though I was stronger then than I am now). It's that these are my books, and when you're in love you do what you need to do.
One of my students pointed out yesterday that there's something fitting about the idea of my things' being stashed all over Gambier while I'm gone. "I think it's good," she wrote. "Think about it as leaving a piece--or a few pieces [or a few thousand pieces, I thought to myself]--of you with the people and places that will miss you as much as you will miss them." Now, that's a good way of thinking about it, for which I'm thankful to her. I very much like the idea that I'm literally putting down (book-)roots before I jet out of here.