The Landfill Of Dead Dreams

By Serdar Yegulalp on 2023-04-09 17:00:00-04:00 No comments

I spent part of this week and the weekend pulling the last few bits of stuff out of the storage unit we'd rented on the other side of town. Even from that distance it all weighed on me, and not just because it was sitting in there to the tune of $115 a month. Few things are more spiritually draining than pawing through mountains of your own stuff. But few things are more spiritually elevating than letting go of everything you are now firmly convinced you don't need.

Most of the "hard goods", we gave to the animal shelter thrift store that benefited from all our prior philanthropizing. But much of it was "soft goods" — paper, trinkets, memorabilia that would have no value to anyone but the one holding it. I got rid of about 99% of that stuff. Every now and then I came across one or two things that I knew I wanted to hold onto, as some link back to a good moment in time, but the rest went straight into the trash or the recycling bin.

Then I found the swords.

Immediately to the right of the storage unit door was a small vertical space in which one could conceal things the size and shape of, say, a broom. Stuffed into that niche were a katana and a "fantasy-style" short sword, dinguses my wife and I had picked up at conventions past. The katana was mine, of course, and I remember vividly having bought it — this was back at I-CON in 1997 or 1998 or something like that. I was in the first phase of my moon-eyed Nipponophilia, and on seeing the katana in a weapons dealer's booth, I convinced myself I had to have it. So I spent entirely too much money, which I didn't really have, on that stupid thing, and I spent the following months (and even years) trying to convince myself I didn't feel like a fool for having done so. The katana was gaudy, tasteless, not useful as an actual weapon, not even well-made enough to be decorative. Its belt loop wasn't even part of its scabbard; the loop was a glued-on piece of wood that broke off the minute I passed a sash through it and held it up.

I know now that my wanting it was more important than actually having it. The only thing it carried with it was the memory of the experience. And that was not something that needed any one artifact to reside in.

When I told my wife about all this, she said she felt the same way about the sword she'd bought too. We put the swords in the back of a closet (one mercifully still uncrowded with junk) and figured we'd do something with them eventually.

I found many other things. Almost none of it Sparked Joy, as Miss Kondo was wont to say. I found a business card for an old friend I haven't spoken to in ages. Neither the phone number nor the website work now. I found countless "flats" (promotional items) from booths at anime cons. I kept telling myself this would all be useful someday as part of a history of such things. Who would write it? Me? Not anymore. Out they went. Not even a blink from me as I threw closed the trash pail.

The few things I kept, and which I plan to keep forever, were in the end few enough in number that a single shoebox held them all. One was a hand-written letter sent to me almost thirty years ago by a man in Egypt who had encountered my professional work in the IT field and wanted some advice as to how to proceed. I think I did write him back, I can't remember at this distance. I do remember feeling humbled and intimidated that anyone would think of me as being such an oracle. Another was a single page torn from a notebook on which was written a happy note from a fan of my books, ecstatic to have seen me at a con again with new material in tow.

Later that evening I told a friend, in conjunction with describing this experience, "What I have or what I've kept need to matter a lot less now than what I do and what I embody."

Even what I do, I feel it doesn't hit the mark most of the time. On a whim I looked back at a couple of my books, sitting on the shelf to the left of where I am typing this, and I was struck with the urge — not for the first time, either — to go through them and ruthlessly pare them down. I imagine at least 20% of any one of my books could be flensed away without anyone missing anything. (In the case of Vajra, more like 30%.) But I've also learned to stare down that feeling and let it slide past me and off into the sunset. Maybe in the end I'll wind up cutting only a few things here and there — "spots from the apple", as I called them — and feel satisfied. But what matters more is moving forward, not looking back.

I don't need things so much as I need processes, or conditions. A good place to work that doesn't make me feel ethically compromised; enough money from that to live decently; a comfortable environment to reside in; the company of supportive and sensible people; the chance to make the things I care about bringing into the world. I have most of those things, and am working on the rest. The artifacts accumulated along the way, they're just that: artifacts. They belong in the landfill of dead dreams. Not a place where living actually happens.

Tags: adulthood organization