Tuesday, March 22, 2011

I like to keep stuff.

Nine cities, four states, and five countries. That's how many places I've lived in throughout my lifetime. Since 1998 I've moved every single year. Sometimes miles away to a different country, sometimes just around the corner to a different apartment. Either way, sometime in the middle of the year, I'm packing and unpacking. Today, I'm packing again. This time to move all the way across the country to San Francisco, CA.

I realized something about myself while packing these past few days. I'm very nostalgic. Until more recently, I've been terrible at throwing stuff away. I keep a lot of it. Why? Because when you move so much, the little things like a stuffed animal, personal letters, and birthday cards is you have left to cling on to after you leave.

So every year around this time I'd spend a lot of time recalling my past by packing. Flipping through old music scores, fingering through a stack of store membership cards I never use, rereading that birthday card my college buddies wrote, among other objects that really pose no significance to anyone but myself.

When you move around a lot, your memory becomes fragmented and non-contiguous. Your sense of continuity regarding a place, or person only applies to that specific time period. You go back to that place, or meet that person years later, everything has changed. When most of your life consists of memories of people in such a fragmented form, you get the sense that you don't really know anyone that well. 

It wasn't so apparent to me until more recently. When you start reconnecting with people you haven't spoken to for a decade, you start to wonder what happened since then. Is he/she still the same person you remember? What has changed? The lingering memories and impressions from the past all comes flooding back, except most of the time they no longer apply. What you thought did, soon prove to be an illusion. What you wish to have kept, is no longer the same. Baring a few memories, it's not so different from acquainting oneself with a complete stranger.

Maybe because of this I kept a lot of stuff. This way I have something that holds all these memories together. People like to identify themselves with a place, or a group, to have a strong sense of belonging. I have some of those too, just not to the extent comparable to what most of people have. I identify myself mostly with a box of seemingly worthless items representing pieces of memories strung together by various mementos. Pieces of which I'm becoming willing to let go of.

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