The language of letting go
A few weeks ago, maybe a month now, I sent our beleagured editor/driving force/pappy of the site Gavin an article on death. It wasn’t just about death, but it permeated the article, which revolved around a dumpster behind a cemetery in my town. A dumpster full of mementos and things like flowers and stuffed animals. Seems gifts also have a place to go and die. The bit didn’t run, which is fine, but I was alerted to a particular paragraph that merited expansion. If I may quote myself:
This column is ostensibly about music but in some selfish way it is about loss, and trying to figure out how to deal with it in a proper, mature manner. Every day we lose the day before, the cycle moves regardless of us. Memories can only get you so far in the realm of healing or forgiveness or anything else. I lament my youth or the effortlessly empty times I spent between the ages of 20 — 27. I would give anything for that time back, yet I’m glad with where I am right now.
Well I’ve been thinking about this for a while, more than a few hours! My moods come and go like waves, cycles perhaps. Sometimes I get really blue and wistful and then upset about the passage of time. And often I think back to my halcyon days. They tend to revolve around my time spent at Wherehouse Records, JAM Music, and to an extent Schuler Books & Music. I’ve lost all three of those places. The first two are long closed, the third is still open, but in the world of music ha changed since I left in 2005. And that’s OK.
When I moved to Traverse City I brought with me 19 boxes of records, over 80 thirty-count boxes of CDs, Reel to Reel tapes, DVDs, VHS tapes, hundred of 8-tracks. I brought those eleven years here with me and I’ve spent the past six years slowly peeling layers off the collection. Initially I did so via eBay to survive; I was going back to school, unemployed but spending like I was still a salaried employee. I managed to save up five grand when I moved up here. I think it took me 6-7 months to burn through $4000. And as I began slowly liquidating I did so out of need.
What is funny, thinking back on it, is the ease with which I was able to let the items go. I say 19 boxes but I had taken a large chunk of items (some of which I still had now to sell!) to Flat Black and Circular in East Lansing. With the move approaching I knew I needed to move some inventory. I continued to whittle and peel my collection down to about 2500 or so CDs and 8 crates of LPs. 8 crates plus three boxes in the shed, that is.
As my family grew, my collection moved from room to room. My initial room in the house became my son’s room, the 1500-piece music rack moved into the guest bedroom where it was soon joined by the second rack that contained jazz and DVDs. Soon that room also was claimed by a baby girl and the two racks moved into our “master” bedroom. Every morning I would wake up surrounded by the racks of sound and vision, my albatross. They became wallpaper. And then one day I noticed that the sun was blazing down onto the discs and that some discs were showing fading from the sun. I couldn’t handle this. Sure the collection was and is my albatross, but having the discs or packaging effed up just. . . I couldn’t let that happen. So I suggested that the racks get moved to the computer room. I came home a few weeks ago and that had happened. Our dinner table was gone and there were 8 crates of records wedged into a corner. Two weeks later my wife said point blank, “I’ll give you $500 and a weekend off (from the kids) if you get rid of the records.” I said no. And then an odd thing happened.
It involves Facebook, this odd thing. See in late June I attended a U2 concert in East Lansing. I wrote about my experience at the show and the band has, in some form or fashion, loomed large over the weeks since the event. But in the lead-up to this show a friend of mine from my record store days was pretty negative about the band and the show. At one point I kinda sniped at this fella, he got righteous and huffy, and whatever beef was discussed and squashed but it really changed my entire thinking about my record collection, of all things.
I’ve long been jealous of the capacity of this person to keep music in their life with such vigor. Always getting something new, always having something to listen to, being able to buy and listen, all these things. Total green-faced jealousy. And then this flame war about U2 changed all that. I wasn’t jealous anymore. In fact, I felt pretty solid about my day-to-day. I’ve been long cured of my retail itch. If I get money now, all I spend it on is iced tea and petrol for my car. I don’t go to movies, I don’t go to shows, I don’t buy records. And this guy does. And I don’t care anymore.
I could spend the rest of my life, til my dying day, worrying about life and regretting the past and every little decision. There may still be things that I use to beat myself up on a day-to-day basis. But I don’t think I can dispute where I’m at now. And getting into this argument, this dumb little thing, was such a wake up call for me. So much so that I started to think about selling my LPs.
Not all of them, mind you, but just weeding down what I have to make room for other things. I suppose I’ve always seen LPs — the physical manifestation of music — as commodity. I’ve never been afraid to buy and sell. If I had never sold a CD from my personal collection I would be drowning in them. I’ve been incredibly connected yet never one to let them go. So why should now be any different? I meant to have a sale on the sly but on my birthday I let it slip.
Saturday, July 23rd. I ran a 5K road race in the morning, 30 miles from home, then dashed back to put up the signs I’d made out of old record dividers and haul out the crates of music. And I waited for people to show up. The night before I’d sifted through the crates, surprised at some of the items I had and forgotten about. As I looked on the items for sale, all for $2.00 per LP, I got excited at the prospect of making money. I got $100 in change (1s and 5s) and waited. I was nervous but the nerves revolved around success in the sale as opposed to the nerves of letting something go.
Six hours in the sun later I probably sold a grand total of 46 LPs out of 600. Four customers. Three were people I know from WNMC. A neighbor actually bought 30 records. At the end of the day I was slightly bummed but hadn’t needed to make change, hadn’t felt any pangs while looking at the LPs, nothing. In fact it just strengthened my feelings about doing this again. So at the end of August, at the end of the summer, I will be doing this again. I’ve already thought about re-weeding the remaining three crates I own to find items for sitting outside. And the items I have thought about putting on eBay I may or may not do. The CDs might be a different matter, but the slow process of liquidating doesn’t feel daunting to me. It doesn’t feel difficult, it feels natural. I don’t miss what I don’t have and when I put things in the rearview mirror it is a pretty successful thing for me. Oh sure sometimes when things vanish I get bummed. I still think I accidentally gave away 8 great cookbooks I’ve been looking for ever since.
I think when I wrote the paragraph I quoted at the beginning of this piece, it was the closest thing to acceptance of fate you’re gonna get out of me. I accept that I can’t go back in time. I accept that things were different during the years between my 20th and 27th birthday. But I was not an active part of my own life then, I was a passive person. No, I was a scared person. Scared of other people, of contact, of taking chances. I think realizing that in my own head and heart is what makes me long for that time. Sort of like wishing you were back in high school only knowing what you know now. It is a foolish way to think.
So often I’ve written of music being molecular, getting inside you and changing you forever after listening. All these LPs I’m selling changed me and I don’t need them anymore. Maybe I did once, but not now. I need to think about looking ahead, not looking behind. I may struggle but I have to keep at it. Don’t be afraid to let things go. Sometimes you find clarity in doing so.