“What sticks to memory, often, are those odd little fragments that have no beginning and no end…” ― Tim O’Brien, The Things They Carried
Oh the possessions I have shed! I’ve moved away from Bellingham (again), and the last few weeks have been filled with cleaning, packing, driving, and carrying really heavy items. Moving is so time-consuming and there is still so much to do. But first, I have to tell you two stories.
The Things I Carried
There are things I have carried with me each and every time I pack boxes to move. I’ve moved across the country from the East Coast and then to several states; Wyoming, Montana, Colorado, California, Washington, and now Oregon. Each time, I seem to collect more stuff, but this time around, I was very selective about what I carried with me. We are also moving into duplex that has less than half of the space of the house we have lived in for six and half years, thus I’ve had a reckoning about my belongings. In the last month, I have shed half of my library of books, one third of my clothes, a quarter of my outdoor gear, and three-fourths of my paper files. It’s led to me to a new edict in life: if I don’t want to carry it to my next house or if I don’t want to pay to eventually throw it away because I can’t give it away, I will not buy it.
I only got lost three times in total nostalgia simply because I didn’t have time. Once I cracked open a journal from a year when I was really unhappy (I didn’t recognize myself on the page, so that’s good). And once I sat down and read an entire book amidst the dust and piles of books. The book was By Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart, mostly because I love that title and the memories I have of the class where I was assigned to read it as a wee lass of an undergraduate. What I underlined and wrote in the margins charmed me, and unlike that wretched horror-show I was in that bad year journal, I liked what I saw of myself quite a bit in the margins of that book. I’d take her out for a beer. We’d make fun of that sad sack of depression called Alyson circa 2007-2009. In the pages of books I gave to the Goodwill, I found so many notes from people I have loved, bookmarks from bookstores of different cities I’ve been to, and notes in the margins of books with thoughts that no longer make sense. Countless scraps of paper with phone numbers and email addresses of people I no longer remember.
Although it’s been weeks since I’ve posted here, I have been blogging daily for the federated wiki library project, and that’s been really hard to do from my cell phone. Without wifi or a dependable schedule, writing daily has been a challenge but I’ve done it for almost 30 days straight. More on this later, but I’m digging my self-made project that (I hope) will help advance the next step of the federated wiki’s evolution. Or maybe just my evolution as a writer. My process has been sporadic, but I’ve tweeted/favorited ideas I want to come back to, then I’ve tried to write something meaningful later in the day. Mostly, I’ve learned how hard it can be to work from your phone.
I had to cancel the household wifi in order to set up the move between Bellingham and Portland, and being wifi-less, I realize, is a first-world problem of the highest order, but the internets is a major part of what I do for a living and for fun. So these last two weeks have been rough. This is wifi-less living is a reality for a great many students who take online classes, and albeit it’s amazing to “work” from your phone, it’s really difficult to do the most basic functions from the cell phone that I have.
Here’s the thing, or the two stories I’ve had brewing in my mind:
Five Victories, Or The Great Reckoning of Stuff 2015:
1. Thanks to RRAD, my second mountain bike will go to a young girl who will learn to mountain bike in the magical forest we call Galbraith. It’s a Kona that I bought in 2003, so she’s going to have a I learned-how-to-shred-on-an-old-school-local-bike-from-some-old-lady-who-knows-Chris. A seriously badass story when she grows up to tell her future partner who will dig chicks who ride bikes. Thanks to Chris Mellick, an old school brah with a big heart, for helping out parents and kids with such an expensive sport. Our giant pile of bike gear will go to good use, and I wish we had donated all of it sooner.
2. My needle and yarn stash of ten years is in one bag. I kept my sewing machine, candle making supplies, and stained glass tools as a shrine to the little crafty hippy I once was and hopefully will be again someday. I have yet to sew curtains for my VW van, but I will.
3. I got rid of the clothes that I wouldn’t be caught dead in today but kept around for one vain reason. Periodically, I’d check to see if these Army pants still fit from circa 1991 that I wore almost everyday for four years. They do sorta fit, but not like they used to. Fuck it, I’m more muscular now, I told myself, grabbed another beer and put them in the donation pile. The other item is a dress that I wore several summers in a row that still fits but I’ve since learned that baby doll dresses are for tall women, not Hobbits like me. What the hell was I thinking?
4. I got rid of the entire paper record of my time as a teacher. All of my evaluations, student samples, handouts, notes, textbooks, student portfolios, reflections, and everything that I thought would one day help me get a job as a full-time tenured English Composition teacher at a community college. All of it. The stack of papers was about as tall as me, and I’m just under five feet, three inches. The filing cabinet went to the Goodwill.
I kept four things thinking it may be useful for others: A] the notebook I put together for the accreditation process as part of my admiration for our department chair. If I hadn’t liked him so much, I would have phoned it in, but I worked really hard on that teacher portfolio. It still holds up as a record of my teaching philosophy. That department was really good to me, and it’s part of why I stayed at that college for so long. You know, I wasn’t too bad of a teacher. I coulda been somebody. I coulda been a contender…B] And I kept just enough to maybe add to Lumen’s catalog should we need more ideas for composition teachers. Some of my assignments could be useful to others. C] I also kept the thank you cards from my students, which I had to stop reading because I was getting weepy. I’m so curious about some of them. If they fulfilled their dreams. If they made it. What happened to them. Some of them had such terrible home lives; it’s a miracle they made it through my class. D] I also kept a stack of syllabi only to show my progression in thinking about teaching and learning with technology. It’s hilarious. The revisions to my course policies were especially interesting to me and could help other teachers. There may be a someday preso in that stack that could help others learn from my stupidity.
5. I got rid of the gear that I’ve kept for sentimental reasons, but I don’t use anymore now that I have upgraded almost everything. All of the hiking, backpacking, skiing, snowboarding, and camp supplies from the ’90s and early ’00s that I’ll never use again, are now gone. I realized I have photos of me using that gear, so why I kept all of it is just beyond me. Hopefully, somebody can get some use out of that gear. It all still works despite the massive amount of duct tape repairs.
Cyclocross Season ’15 My Worst Yet: A Memoir in Three Parts
1. I haven’t written about bikes in awhile, because guess what? I haven’t been riding them. It’s been incredibly hard to find time for the bike during these massive changes in my life. I haven’t consistently exercised since August, I’ve been sitting in front a computer, on airplanes, in cars, and in front of the fire reading/writing more than I’ve been raising my heart rate. Thus, in part, why those Army pants don’t fit anymore. Dammit.
2. I’ve done three races and I’ve either come in last place or second to last place, which you know, kinda stinks. My first race with the Expert Women was an eye-opener of how fast those ladies are and how I have no business being out there with them. No frickin’ business. I’m an A category in experience, but I’m borderline category B/C with ability and fitnesss. Because I had “won” the other categories, I had promised to upgrade to encourage other women to advance. What a shit show mistake, but I did it.
At one race, I just decided to have fun and heckle back at some very drunk dudes. I had listened to them yell “It’s run-up not a walk-up” for the entire race before mine, so I had already planned my response when I passed them. For the record, this was an incredibly hard run-up and only the fittest of the fit could actually ride it, and I doubt that dudes who were drunk off their asses before noon were ripping up it. During my race, I heard them yelling their taunt phrase , so I looked over at them and said, “Screw you!” grabbed the hand-up, took a shot of whiskey, and threw down my Dixie cup with dramatic flare. The crowd roared with laughter, and let’s face it, cyclocross is a spectator sport and it was my time to give back to the masses. It was my first race where I wasn’t serious and hot damn was it fun to ham it up a bit.
3. This is my last season on my Redline cross bike that I plan to turn into a commuter bike. It’s been a good cross bike for me, and I’ve liked riding an old school bike frame from a Washington company. This time next year, I hope to be writing about my new CX bike, my first CX race season in Portland, and how much I love living there. Hopefully I’ll find my way back to the mid-pack fitness again.
I started this blog post from Bellingham and I’m finishing it at a coffee shop near my new home in Portland. I had a really great six-half years in the Ham this time around, and I’m happy that little town full of friends is still within a morning’s drive. The great reckoning wasn’t really about my stuff at all, it was really about the hope I’m carrying now about my life and my career. I now have a job that I know I will completely love in a very interesting new city. Lucky ducky me.
Alyson, after two years away from teaching, I STILL have boxes full of teaching stuff — so I am 1) greatly astonished and busting with admiration for you, and 2) a teeny tiny bit inspired. Portland doesn’t know how lucky they are. Bethany
You have that lovely little writing studio so enjoy it! Spend the time writing and take the file purge one recycling bin at a time.
Delighted to know Team Elroy made it to Portland. And glad to see you back on this blog for a spell. The daily stuff is a little too insider-baseball for my wee brain, and it lacks such delightful images as army-pants-wearing lady hobbits. Heh. Don’t be a stranger, AFKAMD (Artist Formerly Known as Madame Director).
The daily stuff will make sense eventually and it’s really me trying to practice being less of an opinionated writer, which you know, comes naturally (choke, cough). Team Elroy is cooked and super exhausted. We had tacos and beer at a dive bar on Thanksgiving, so it’s been an adventure. I’ll be in touch soon and I’ll accept phone consultations if needed. That gig can be an enigma, for sure, superhero.
P.S. You were an excellent teacher. And mentor. My teaching is much more difficult without you as a sounding board!
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