Friday, 1 March 2013

On Camels Failing to Pass Through the Eyes of Needles

A moral high ground is so often adopted where Stuff is concerned, specifically the possession of large quantities of Stuff. We see someone whose shelves sag with the bulk of whatever crap they've accumulated over the years, so we frown and shake our heads. Conversely, we greet the same person sat smiling beatifically in a bare room whilst contemplating a grain of corn with contemplative one-handed applause. We admire their wisdom, their having shaken off the need of material distractions, and then we go home and listen to John Lennon telling us how fab it would be if we could just live without Stuff, just like he did. You can't take it with you when you die, well-wishers remind us, as though anyone in the entire history of the human race with the possible exception of certain Pharaohs ever failed to grasp that particular clause of the mortality contract.

Of course, there are those who really do have too much Stuff, who make compulsive purchases in the doomed hope of achieving an elusive happiness, who accumulate vast libraries of overpriced tat they will never read or watch because, having failed to develop critical faculties, they are obliged to assess value by the criteria of whether or not something has a Doctor Who logo printed on the cover - to specifically identify one road I might have travelled but for the grace of having become a fully grown man. There are those who really, really don't need a jet-ski, or another pair of shoes, or two houses, or books explaining what J. Michael Straczynski was trying to say with Babylon 5. Having long known that neither the simple purchase nor possession of an object has ever done much to raise my spirits during times of sorrow, I'm pretty sure I am not one of those people. At least I hope I'm not one of those people, even though it's true that I do have one hell of a lot of Stuff.

I justify my ton of Stuff - mainly records, compact discs, cassettes, books, and comics - by periodically getting rid of anything I have in my possession just for the sake of it. If I'm unlikely to look at or listen to some vaguely cultural artefact again, there's not a lot of point in keeping it, and I try to avoid buying anything through either boredom or habit; but that said, I still have a lot of Stuff. The occasional purge is okay, but there's no point in getting rid of things just for the sake of a purge. I've done this before, mainly with books, and only ended up buying them again, which has at least helped refine my sense of what I can live without.

Girlfriend number three was a big fan of getting rid of Stuff, or decluttering as she called it, having presumably read the term in one of her four million self-help books. She was also a big fan of television programmes like How Clean is Your Arse? and Well, I Just Hope You're Satisfied in which self-proclaimed advice gurus hector and bully regular people into feeling worthless for the sake of ratings.

'Oh Doctor Gillian,' number three would chortle, inadvertently commending a bum-faced snake oil peddling televisual quack for reducing a fat person to tears over a bag of sodding Maltesers. 'What are you like, Doctor Gillian?' number three would titter at the screen as though sharing in some private joke communicated by means of long-distance telepathy, simultaneously earning the dubious distinction of being the last person in the entire Milky Way galaxy to believe in Gillian McKeith's medical qualifications. For whatever reason, somewhere along the line, girlfriend number three had learned to associate distress and abuse with self-improvement, apparently missing the crucial point that telling somebody off is never really an end in itself and is more productive when there's a subject. Of course, she saw all my shelves of books and comics and, unable to appreciate the skips full of cranky UFO-related literature that I had already Joseph Stalined from my own personal timeline, she helpfully set me a challenge. Each week I was to pick five books I didn't need and give them to Oxfam, and she would be checking up on me.

One week later she checked up on me and found that I had failed to pick five books or to give any away. I explained that this was because I had no intention of accepting her idiotic challenge regardless of what conversations may have transpired inside her head. Besides, I didn't exactly need any of them, I just liked having them. It didn't strike me as difficult to understand.

By the time I fled the house and my nonsensical entanglement with girlfriend number three, aided and abetted by a genial chain smoking Irish motorist and his van, I was painfully aware of just how much Stuff I had accumulated, having moved three times in as many years. The fourth move was to my mother's house in Coventry, an undertaking distinguished by the additional task of my having to carry all that Stuff up a flight of stairs.

By this time I'd met Bess, and we had drawn up tentative plans to marry and live together in Texas, so I spent eighteen months selling half of my Stuff on eBay in order to afford shipping costs for the other half. I suppose the point of my describing all this is to set forth the thesis that by 2009, if I owned a particular book, record, comic book or whatever, then I owned it for a reason other than pure sentiment. After twenty years of carting Stuff around, you tend to hang onto the things that repay your investment.

Anyway, to gradually approach the purpose of all this, in 2011, I had sold about as much as I could on eBay, and all the immigration papers had come through, so I crammed a couple of suitcases with books and compact discs and flew to San Antonio, Texas. For nearly two years I lived with access to just a small percentage of my Stuff, specifically that which I was able to bring back as luggage following two return visits to the United Kingdom. As for the rest of it, I hadn't even started the process of packing and shipping before I left England, there having been too much else to do; and Bess and I had not at the time agreed upon where we would live once married, so there hadn't even been an address I could have given the shipping company. After a year, I went back for a few weeks and discovered that this wasn't really sufficient time to sort out the shipping, so I ended up spreading all the paperwork, handshakes, and shoving things in boxes over two visits, the second of these occurring in November 2012. As it happened, I didn't actually get all of my Stuff in those forty boxes of approximately 20kg each, but I got most of it, enough for what remains at my mother's house to constitute luggage following the next few visits.

So after nearly two years of getting by on a bare minimum of Stuff - just a few essential Ice Cube albums and Clifford D. Simak novels - the van has been and gone, dropping off forty boxes packed three months earlier in cold, wet England. I haven't yet built the shelving to accommodate all of this Stuff, so it remains in the garage for the moment. So far I've opened just one box out of curiosity, mainly to assess the chance of everything still being in one piece, and so this week has been soundtracked by old favourites not heard for at least two summers: Dandy Warhols, Dizzee Rascal, DJ Rap, DMX, Tha Dogg Pound, Dresden Dolls, Elektri─Źni Orgazam, El-P, Eno, Eminem, and Eels - who for some reason I've only just identified as being Nirvana directed by Tim Burton, which probably accounts for why I was never too sure about that album, but anyway...

It's been great having all my Stuff once again under the one roof, although at the same time it's been quite strange. Another one of those massive jobs that has been years in the planning no longer requires my attention, and at the same time, I realise there's no longer anything like so much of me left back in the old country; and strangest of all, opening up just that one box felt somehow like going through the house of somebody who died. Whoever I was two years ago, there's probably an argument for my now being someone slightly different, and certainly less pissed off.

At a push, Stuff might be considered an extended phenotype of sorts. Ownership of No Limit compact discs or the novels of D.H. Lawrence probably isn't encoded in my DNA, but it might be possible to trace a line back in that general direction, at least allowing for a major diversion through nurture and the like. Birds make nests, and chimpanzees poke sticks into holes in the ground, and as my mental faculties aren't quite up to eidetic recall and replay of the entire Scarface back catalogue, I have these material extensions of memory which I carry around from place to place.

This is what I meant by there no longer being much of me left back in England. If I am by some definition comprised of all this Stuff, most of it's now here in Texas.

To possess Stuff is only human nature. We like to have things around us, and anyone who regards that as necessarily bad is probably an idiot, or at least not someone with whom you would want to spend an entire weekend. I appreciate love, friendship, wildlife, cats, thought, a beautiful sunset and all of those things that you can't stick on a credit card without feeling the need to use my appreciation to score points; but I can also appreciate a lovingly maintained vinyl copy of Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti album, or Philip K. Dick's novels arranged in chronological order; and if you can't understand that, then you have my pity.

Like water being wet and the rest room facilities of which bears traditionally avail themselves, it always struck me as self-evident that a man lacking qualities beyond the contents of his wallet cannot, by definition, enter the kingdom of heaven; although as for why anyone would wish to thread a camel through the eye of a needle - I never really got that one.

1 comment:

  1. > as for why anyone would wish to thread a camel through the eye of a needle - I never really got that one.

    Opinions are divided as to what this really means, but try here.