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Moving House

May 21, 2018

Last week I did something different. Instead of trying to remember which of my various projects I needed to work on first each morning, I went into the office and worked with my student manager on packing up the writing center to move to its new location. We worked 10 am to noon and 1 pm to 4:30 pm and when our time was up each day I came home to do something else. It was a great experience, going to work.

I haven’t moved the writing center (and my office) since 2011, and then it was a matter of moving a few things from two small rooms in the library to two bigger ones. Now we’re moving to a different building and the writing center room will be smaller, so the student manager and I went through the contents of a large vertical filing cabinet and packed what we needed to keep into cardboard boxes we labeled “archives.” Going through them to decide what to keep was fun, as I got to tell her some of the history of the writing center and she got to exclaim over things like finding papers from former student workers who went on to become professors.

IMG_1497Since I’d been teaching Melian, our now-adolescent kitten, how to go in and out the cat flap and stay close to the house during the day, I’d been working at home the week before the move. She did fine with me gone for some of the day, though; she came in to speak to me and get treats with Pippin and Tristan when I went by the house at lunchtime. Sitting outside for a few minutes to admire the flowers in our garden while the cats enjoyed themselves in the spring sunshine, I mused a little about all the cats I’ve trained and the students I’ve known while looking at the boards of the deck that need to be replaced and thinking about what will have to be moved for that. It’s a never-ending process, moving. I do it slowly, to savor the pieces of history that get unearthed and to reassure the cats who, like me, don’t like things to change too fast or too much.IMG_1481

Lately I’m always cleaning out closets, overstuffed with clothing and bedding and memories. I’m reluctant to get rid of things that were once dear to me, so when Ron wants a change, he offers me incentives like I offer treats to the cats. It works, mostly because I see how much he wants it, not because I want much change myself. I want to take it all with me, like the speaker in Hugh Savage’s poem:

Moving House

If only we could take it with us, our
inevitable accumulation of a lifetime
–things we’ve grown into, as clothes
wear themselves to the wearer’s move,
tools to the craftsman’s every touch.

We’d like to take the entire lot, not
throw those out, save these. But how
can we be sure if, when it’s curtains
for us, they’ll fit whatever windows,
if any, give onto braver certainties?

Let’s face it: what we’d like to take
is nothing less than the house itself
–so accustomed have we become to the
feel and incommunicable smell of what
we’ve come to know as home. Stop it!

Why not admit that the house is built
on a cesspit; that from the ground up
the frame is riddled with white ants,
each in the fast-lane of its twisting
fistula; that sounds have been heard,

untoward things occurred in the rooms
upstairs; and that in fact the better
off we’ll be the sooner we get out of
it: our makeshift digs the body, that
transportable dwelling, moving house?

IMG_1502I’ve gotten rid of some of the things that weigh me down at work and at home, but kept what anchors me to what I do and where I am, notes from former students, photos of former cats, time to sit in the same place each spring and admire the new yellow of the old azaleas. And the next time I move, I’ll find a note I’m saving, from the student who spent last week working with me.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. May 21, 2018 1:03 pm

    I’m curious what kinds of things fall into the category of weighing you down.

    • May 21, 2018 1:15 pm

      Papers from students who turned out not to be a good fit for the writing center. Paper copies of old log books, with names of students since 1990. Clothes that didn’t turn out to be ones I could like but I’d bought for an occasion or to cover up the fat and knee scars. An itchy wool blanket that got me through the winter in Rhode Island.

  2. May 21, 2018 5:23 pm

    Every semester, I clean out my desk to find a note taped to the bottom of a drawer. It is from two of my former Writing Center tutors who were implying that I never clean out my desk. I open it up, read it, and tape it back down to find the next year. One is now a lawyer, the other a speech pathologist. It makes me so happy.

    • May 22, 2018 1:34 pm

      That’s great! I love that you’ve stayed in touch with them to know what they’re doing now.

  3. May 21, 2018 5:25 pm

    I come from a family of hoarders, so (perhaps more than most), I really feel the burden possessions lay on one. I experience genuine feelings of relief when I clear out cupboards and closets; it feels like some merciful god has reached down and lifted a heavy weight from me. Maybe I should write a poem for the people like me. 😜

    • May 22, 2018 9:00 am

      Oh I don’t know that you need to come from hoarders to feel that exhilarating freedom. My mom is a very minor pack rat (VERY minor) and I get rid of stuff with abandon and glee.

      • May 22, 2018 1:36 pm

        Elizabeth and I are opposites in terms of getting rid of stuff. I find possessions reassuring, rather than a burden. We also feel this way in terms of literal flesh–when I’m stressed, I put on weight, and when she is stressed, she loses.
        Maybe you should write a poem, so I could feel what the relief is like!

  4. May 23, 2018 3:43 pm

    I honestly don’t know that I’ve ever seen a yellow azalea before! Around here they’re all fuschia or light purple.

    I’m glad you had a helper in the big cleanout/move. Seems like a big job.

    • May 23, 2018 9:32 pm

      I’m glad I had a helper, too!
      After the yellow azaleas bloom, an orange one opens. I found out that it’s called a “flame” azalea.

  5. May 23, 2018 6:12 pm

    Hooray for writing centers! I used to be a writing center tutor back in college, and it was one of my favorite jobs. Best of luck in your new space!

    • May 23, 2018 9:33 pm

      I, of course, think that the students who work in the writing center have one of the most important and rewarding jobs on campus.

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