Monday, November 12, 2007

The bonfire of my vanity

So on Saturday afternoon I had a bonfire.

I had the bonfire for a few reasons. Initially it was intended to be a ritualistic burning of the past 30-plus years of my life. I’m not going to burn everything I own, but I have to get rid of stuff, stuff that I don’t need, and more importantly, I don’t want.

But I can’t burn it all. I have far too many baseball cards to just throw away, even if collectively they’re not worth a hell of a lot. But I couldn’t care less about 99 percent of them. If I kept just a few cards from the entire collection, I’d be happy. The same goes for the years worth of comic books I collected.

Collecting baseball cards and comic books kept me from developing a teenage drug habit, I argue, but in the end all I have is a lot of dead weight I’ve been hauling around for years. I’m not going to burn my collections, but I’m going to find a way to get rid of them this winter, one way or another.

As a kid I loved collecting crap. As an adult I hate it. I’d love nothing more than to have a lot of space and a lot of disposable income to collect all sorts of cool stuff, but I don’t have either, so perhaps that’s part of the reason I lost a lot of my appetite for collecting. I’m not the same person I was as a teenager. Hell, I’m not the same person I was five years ago, for better or for worse. (I’d like to think I’m on a road for the better, but the jury is still out.)

There are a lot of things I don’t need any more. I have several shoe boxes full of old cards and letters. Somehow I was convinced I couldn’t throw away those generic birthday cards my relatives signed on an annual basis. There was sentiment in them, after all. But somewhere along the line I realized that the burden of keeping generic Christmas cards outweighed, literally, the sentiment behind them. It was time to move on. I’m living for the future, not the past, after all. I can’t hold onto everything from my past, otherwise I’ll be burdened with it in the future.

Some day I may be old and tired, longing for memories of my youth, wishing I had held onto all those cards and letters, all the comic books of my youth. But I hope that day never comes. I hope I’ll be able to keep making memories rather than be relegated to living through them. Sure it’s nice to look back at pictures of friends and family, but I don’t need pictures to remind me of my adventures bicycling the MS 150, I need the energy to keep doing it year after year. And if the day comes that I cannot bicycle 150 miles during the second weekend of June then I hope I’ll be doing other things to enjoy life, not sitting around reminiscing about what I did in my youth.

Although I didn’t sort through all of the old shoe boxes prior to the bonfire, I sorted through about half of the collection. I kept a small stack of correspondence from my closest friends, including my childhood friend in Indiana, whom I hear from once a year. I ditched short notes from my grandmother in Chicago, including one with a racist comment in it. (Grandma spent her entire life on the south side of Chicago, long before there were “civil rights.”) I got rid of almost every birthday/holiday card I was given. I burned letters from grade school and college friends I have completely lost contact with. I burned letters from people I struggled to remember.

I glanced at some, I read a few, I disposed of most of them. In some cases all I had to do was see the return address and I knew it was going right in the burn pile. I read a few of those forgotten missives before they went into the fire, but I had no regret about burning them. I burned cards and letters from the early 1980s, stuff I hadn’t looked at since that time. And what little of it I did look at did little for me. Sure I may have jogged a memory or two by reading all those old cards and letters, but I have plenty of memories as it is. I’m more interested in making new memories, not reliving the memories of the past.

I also burned a few other things that I have been hauling around in boxes for years, but I have a long way to go. I have a collection of newspapers from my first professional job, all 14 months worth. I’m going to go through them some afternoon soon and find the most memorable and amusing articles from that point in my life, clip them out and recycle the scraps.

I have copies of miscellaneous newspapers I have collected from over the years, newspapers from cities around the country. I have newspapers from random states I have visited because I always thought it was cool to compare and contrast the newspapers of yesteryear. It still is, but I no longer have the interest or space to hold onto copies of the Houston Chronicle or the Orlando Sentinel from 10 or 15 years ago. That collection of newspapers, some probably 25 years old, will be offered via Craig’s List to a new owner. Somebody out there will want them, and I’d like to see them find a better home than the recycling bin.

Other things aren’t likely to have any value to anyone else, and will end up in a future bonfire if necessary. I’m not getting rid of everything. I still need my bicycling and camping equipment. I still want my Halloween decorations, even if I didn’t get to use them this year. But it’s time to stop pretending I’m going to play broomball again. It’s time to stop pretending I’m going to really learn how to ice skate. That equipment has to go, one way or another.

It’s hard to let go, but it is harder to hold onto the past.

'Cause yesterday's got nothin' for me, old pictures that I'll always see. Time just fades the pages in my book of memories. – from “Yesterdays” by Guns ‘n’ Roses

So although I didn’t burn as much as I would have liked, I started, symbolically, to sever ties with my past.

But simply having a bonfire to burn a few faded memories wasn’t enough. I had to make it an event of some sort, so I turned the bonfire into a social gathering.

Since my apartment is too small to host a social gathering I took advantage of the bonfire as a way to gather a few friends from the various circles of my life. I’m not sure what inspired me, but I realized that because many of my friends have children it’s not easy to have a social gathering unless the children are involved. So I invited friends with children to join me for an afternoon of gathering around a pile of burning wood, with the occasional memory tossed in for fun.

I had juice boxes, Halloween candy and smores for the kids, a rather simple activity with prizes and a complimentary bottle of mustard for each family. Children ranging from 5 months to 11 years old attended, along with their parents, for a few hours of socializing. The kids created their own fun, thanks to the random stuff they found in my landlord’s vacant lot next to his house, and only one child ended up crying. I think I ended up with 11 children making an appearance that afternoon.

I was busy making smores, helping kids find miniature flying discs hidden in the trees and, occasionally, chatting with the parents. Three hours were over before I knew it.

The event started out as a way to burn off a lot of excess crap I don’t need. It turned out to be a social gathering for several of my friends. As I’ve said before, my friends mean the most to me in this day and age, and I hope that Saturday afternoon’s social gathering will serve as a reminder of that fact as I continue to sift through boxes of crap I haven’t touched in years.

But until then I’m content with the thought I had as I reflected upon the day that was in my crappy old bed late Saturday night: I am a great guy. And obviously humble, too.

1 comment: