The house in Seaside, California had been my mother’s home for three decades – and for more than the past twelve years my permanent residence and artist studio. I had vowed that while my elderly mother was still alive, it would never be sold nor lien placed upon it ; but now, Ma is gone.
Karen, my fiancée, is also an artist, and at the start of this year 2019 I moved from Seaside to the nearby town in which she lived, to start a new life with her as a full-time artist and writer. Two months prior to that, I quit my day job – hopefully done with day jobs forever.
The forty-five-year-old house in Seaside was in a state of disrepair, but I didn’t have the financial means to upgrade it. Much of its more than sixteen hundred square feet was dirty and filled with clutter. We met with a realtor to discuss a rapid sale of the Seaside house — “as is”. With a speed that left us breathless, three weeks later we closed escrow.
In those three weeks, we sold, donated or moved to storage a number of items from the thirty years of accumulated THINGS. In the final week, movers came and hauled away tons of old furniture. Yet, closing day had finally come, and even with all furniture gone, sixteen hundred square feet was still littered with boxes, thousands of books and bags of trash — tons of THINGS that physically could not be moved into Karen’s — a house less than half the size.
The buyer had agreed to postpone closing for a week. That week at the end of March had come and gone, and he would budge no further. Midnight was the rock bottom deadline to be off the property that was no longer mine, a property that was to be empty – totally empty — of all my THINGS.
After a night filled with fitful sleep and chaotic dreams, early that morning I sat with Karen at her kitchen table. “You can’t argue with the physics of space and time,” I said. There were too many things – too many to bring to our small home, too much to put in our limited storage rental, no time left to sort, pack and move it all. We were overwhelmed with THINGS.
A huge portion of those things would have to be trashed. How did this feel? It would be the equivalent of taking possessions – thousands of books, objects that had belonged to my parents and me and accumulated over thirty years – dumping them in the back yard, pouring gasoline over them and setting them on fire. If we were to pull off this caper by midnight, that is what I resolved to do.
I’ll deviate now from my narrative to speak of what this writing is really about.
I want to speak on the subject of things: Attachment to THINGS, the memories they represent, grief that comes with loss, whether the loss be of loved ones, relationships, jobs or money, but specifically on the loss of THINGS to which we’ve become attached.
The bank account into which the money from the sale was to be deposited didn’t even exist until two days prior to closing. For the purpose of this writing, I can’t go into the complexities involved into why this was so, but even the money from the sale was a THING to be reckoned with.
What should have been our delight at our newfound income was marred by anxiety. We were anxious that our inability to fulfill the buyer’s demand that to vacate a totally emptied house would cause the deal to all come apart and come to naught.
The image that came to my mind was of Sisyphus, the arrogant king condemned to forever roll a prodigious rock up a steep mountainside, only to have it repeatedly and forever come crashing back down. To my mind, the attachment THINGS is our rocks; and our obsession with things is our own self-condemnation to roll them.
The world appears full of suffering, yet that suffering is caused by want, by desiring. For far too many in this world, the want is of dire need for the means basic survival, of food and of shelter. For others of privilege, want is simply to have – to have THINGS and to have the means to control THINGS. Somewhere I had heard that in certain cultures desiring more than what one needs is the definition of insanity.
So many of the things my parents and I accumulated over thirty years in fact were no longer needed for any practical purpose. Perhaps many of the items were never needed, either from the baseline standpoint of survival or even comfort. Articles of clothing I hadn’t worn for years; books I was unlikely to read again, if at all; objects purchased in the past that had no relevance to the present day; items that took up space, and could not be transported from a larger space to a space not even half as big.
Why then was it so hard to simply let go of unnecessary THINGS?
For me, and perhaps for many other people, things were not only “things” as objects, but memories – memories of the human interactions and events associated with the things at the point of their acquisition and use, such as at a younger, earlier time in my life or particularly memorable happy times.
How was I to let go? For one thing, by coming to recognize and express gratitude for what I had, instead of what I didn’t have; what I had gained in the quality of my life, and not the objects I was to lose.
I will also speak of my belief in a safe and loving universe. I want to believe — and choose to believe — in a universe that wants us all to succeed in the best terms of success; and that if we ask – individually and en masse – our success will be granted in proportion to our expectations that it will. We create our reality. I believe that the only “rule” is that my asking will not be at the expense of or harm to anyone else.
Likely, this belief of mine will be met with disbelief in my naiveté. Surely, a random scan of the daily news filled with examples of greed should disabuse me of that belief, no? Admittedly, my faith is tested often, and often for days and weeks on end.
I offer no proof of my assertion that the universe is loving and safe. I can only present my personal experience where the gods or the universe opened and responded to my need, my committed resolve, hard work and most importantly my positive expectations, manifested in events lined up and people coming through with kindness and good will in my behalf.
In The Scottish Himalayan Expedition, the mountaineer William Hutchinson Murray asserted in a statement often misattributed to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, “At the moment of commitment the entire universe conspires to assist you.”
Be grateful in what you have all around you, and you get what you need. I believe that the truth of this has been borne out for me on a number of occasions.
In the days and weeks during and following my move from bigger-to-smaller and more-to-less, and in the context of current political and economic events I reflected on the suffering that results from the lust for things and for the control of things. From this reflection came the inspiration to paint King Sisyphus In the Underworld.