An excerpt from the hybrid memoir, Fayettenam: Meditations on Missingness
During the Pandemic, I’ve been locked down only a little more firmly than I had been living my sequestered, solitary life before. Nearly two years ago, my wife and I sold our home in the country and moved to Houston, renting an apartment. Then, Yukiko went to Japan—rural, Southern Kyushu—planning to travel back and forth, setting up a horsemanship/parenting program there, and returning here between sessions. The pandemic forced her to stay, and we’ve had a Zoom marriage, still ongoing.
During that time, I taught remotely. I also exercised, read, and listened to music chosen deliberately to expand and deepen my melancholy: modal jazz, Romantic classical (Ravel and such), dream pop, ambient—whatever drew out memory and loss, whatever shrank the present within the broad, deep field of the past and the unknown future.
I also embarked on several hobbies, following through on obsessive practices already established: cataloging my books, scanning family photos and reading notes from years back, repacking keepsakes so that the boxes, all modular, work like wonder-cabinets that correspond to the abstract files in my mind.
The obsession compounded on itself. I got better and better at scanning and organizing, reducing, and digitizing. I photographed the objects, getting rid of the things themselves, except for the most precious items. I fit everything into schemes: the digital files are tagged for date, place, and symbolic meaning.
The books have become an emotional burden. Having them, but knowing I won’t read most of them ever again, won’t get around to reading the hundreds of books I bought, fondled, skimmed, but never finished, saving for some future moment, hurts. Those future moments seem transferred, of late, to an alternate life.
Lately I’ve been scanning the books themselves. I want the physical library to be packable and moveable within a day, able to be loaded into a rental trailer so I can do it myself, if necessary. The benchmark is my move to New York in 1976, dragging two duffel bags crammed with all my possessions down Avenue of the Americas from the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Perhaps before actual death, I won’t ever again achieve such compactness; but aiming for the extreme, part of me believes I’ll arrive at a clean, renewed version of myself, capable of flight.
I’ve loaded the family photographs into a digital frame, and as the sad, modal music plays, random images prick me with feeling. My son is still alive and well, but the many versions of him as a child are gone forever. My young selves, my young wife’s selves, the several friends and family who are dead—the irrevocable loss becomes the greater part of me.
It’s sadness or melancholy. It’s the part of happiness that hurts, exposing a mind too tight around itself in a vast and mysterious world. The immobile sense of self that sometimes threatens to adhere, to stall the heart, is an illusion; the self is a flow, a wind or stream. Let yourself vanish sometimes, like a dead leaf that finally drifts into the mass of organic, undifferentiated matter. If your heart beats still, you’ll reappear in some discrete, modest form soon enough. If no one is near enough to call your name, some homunculus within—an older or imminent you, the spirit of a loved one will call you from inside.
I studied myself as I scanned, cataloged, consolidated, and digitized. I found the smallest hard drive to hold it all: every book, note, and photograph in the palm of my hand.
This scanning, digitizing, organizing, and reducing comes from the nomadic part of myself, the child who always seemed to be packing and moving and unpacking, who saw the next town, neighborhood, school, or next pack of friends, as a new beginning. I was always hopeful before a move. Starting over, getting things right with the new set of circumstances: avoiding social awkwardness this time, becoming cool, becoming admired—it was possible, it stayed possible. That was not only the sense of youth, but the sense of life. To live was to move, or to be just-moved and filled with potential, whatever mistakes might accrue.
The pandemic pushed me closer to the logico-spiritual conclusion of that nomadic frame of life: that death, whether it will take me tomorrow or in thirty years, was the singular sense of self that provides the backing for everything else, ephemeral and dear. Mortality is the self, always here, the music behind the music. Thus, this obsessive compacting of the ephemera of my life, the dear things—books, notes, photographs, tiny idols, and gems—means, I think, that I’m preparing for the Last Big Move. Moving has been my life. Moving is also the illusion that death, the sum total of one’s choices and fortunes, can be delayed forever.
The Last Big Move is one more try at cheating death. You can’t take it with you—or can you? If I reduce it all down to a tiny rectangle or disc that I can hide in my hand, maybe I can. Besides that, I’ve recently started uploading everything. In that magical part of my brain, it makes sense that the dead have access to the cloud.