twenty-one + twenty

I went into this past weekend in some sort of funk. (You might have picked up on that.) I was tired and out of sorts – not angry or bitter at all, just sort of… resigned to it all. I kept trying to push through things, breaking them down into manageable pieces – which is supposed to help, I know – but I couldn’t really get out of the cycle of feeling like there is no real end in sight, no matter the effort I throw at things.

Luckily, I realized that line of thought was getting me nowhere fast. Saturday morning I woke up, headed to yoga, and then headed back home for the rest of the day. I had plenty of things I needed to do on the computer, but M was working on our taxes, and I decided that sitting at a desk all afternoon wasn’t really going to make me feel any better. Instead, I made some coffee, sat down in the living room, and decided to tackle some of the accumulation in there. We tend to collect things near the front door – things that need to head out to other places – hand-me-downs, Goodwill donations, etc. We’d been good at sorting through these things and organizing them, but it had been awhile since I’d actually loaded things up and delivered them. There was a box my mom sent home with me after our last visit, and an even bigger box she brought with her from the visit before. I filled up the trunk to overflowing, played a few rounds of Go Fish! with F, and then set to work on the boxes.

There were two large ziploc bags stuffed full of maps and brochures, and dozens and dozens of ticket stubs. I pulled out the contents of the first envelope and I was completely sucked in. Maps of almost every city and town in Italy, walking paths mapped out in pen, notes scribbled in the margins, hotel names and phone numbers listed, train schedule notes, tallies of lunch expenses and how many postcards I picked up at the station.

There were envelopes full of letters – somewhere along the way I found an early one from my grandmother that detailed how she could send two page letters to me with one airmail stamp. That explained why every single letter I received from everyone while I was living in Italy had two sheets of paper, tiny words written in neat rows on both sides of the sheet. Letters from friends I haven’t talked to in decades, letters from friends I still talk to today. Letters from my sister describing her senior year of high school, how much she missed me, how often people asked her about me. My mother’s letters always ended with a handwritten accounting statement of my finances, my dad’s typewritten letters always included a photocopy of his favorite Far Side cartoon from the calendar on his desk. Two of my college friends would co-write their letter together – they were full of newsy gossip about all the dramas that occur in architecture school when a small group of people are forced to work together in tiny studios day and night.

There was no email communication while I was away. I called home at a certain time each week, accounting for the six hour time change, timed to hit right around dinner time at my parent’s house. There were copies of the faxes I would send – I would photocopy pages out of my sketchbook and tape them to the fax sheet, scribbling notes around the edges. The bags didn’t include the postcards that my family received, but their letters referenced things I wrote in them, which brought back lots of memories of that time.

I can’t believe I saved all of those train tickets – how many trains did I take that year? I guess I could count and see. It doesn’t seem like me – I don’t hang onto things like that anymore. Outside of the subway map we kept a copy of a few weeks ago, how many maps do we actually use? The paper kind of maps, you know. Not many

I’ve been thinking about Saturday afternoon a lot this week. Something shifted in me as order was restored in my living room, as I went through that box, piece by piece. I’ve asked myself if I think I’m a sentimental person, and I’m not sure how to answer that. I like to think that I’m not overly sentimental, but I think that’s because I attach some extra baggage to that word. Sentimental means holding onto something from the past – and that implies the inability to part with things just because they should carry meaning with them. That the object itself is more important than the memory of it. Sentimentality feels like a slippery slide towards uncontrollable clutter (at best), lack of resolve (at worst).

The more I followed that line of thinking, the more ridiculous it seemed to me. I can divorce the idea of sentimentality from the objects themselves. I can be glad that these particular items were saved, stored away for some future (present) moment of recollection, without feeling any pangs of guilt over the other remnants of past lives not tucked away or the future objects that will have fleeting moments in our lives before moving right along. I can just as easily summon the memory of an afternoon spent at a cafe table in Sienna, sketching the fountain wolves with long, arching lines of water spewing from their mouths, from the feel of rough pavement under my feet or the sound of voices layered underneath the sound of babbling water, as I can with a spent biglietto. 

In just about twenty-four hours (depending on how quickly I can wrap this thought up) I’ll turn forty-one. Which means (because I am me and this is how I do me), that I’ve been thinking about this lately. I remember that turning thirty was no big deal, but thirty-one came at me like a lightning bolt, a most unpleasant feeling that lasted for awhile. Forty seemed fairly anti-climatic as well; it actually turned out to be a rather fun age. I’ve braced myself for forty-one, just in case. I like to be prepared, if nothing else.

But here it was, spread out in front of me. Twenty-one. Twenty-one, armed with a sketchbook, a eurorail pass, a few lire (numbers managed still by my mother), long weekends with a wrong-folded map, frayed around the edges, time. I felt like the release of those memories should have heightened my current feelings of anxiety and longing for more time, sweet, unencumbered, agenda-less time. But they didn’t. I just saw me – in the scribbles, in the planning, in the sketches and the letters and the notes about dinner, and the feelings conjured up by the discovery of a hidden alley or garden wall or winding stair. I just saw me.

A week can get away from me. A month, perhaps. Sometimes even a tough year. It was a good (and needed) reminder that the passage of time does not represent a loss of opportunity – or self. It’s just what it is, and nothing more.

(But maybe I’m just not the sentimental type.)


Here’s to forty-one, and twenty-one, and finding me in all the spaces in between.

5 Responses to twenty-one + twenty

  1. Beautifully expressed. I turned 44 yesterday. At one time in my life that seemed old. Now I just marvel that I am as old as my parents once were.
    And I feel young. My students asked how old I was, and I answered 44. They were surprised – and that felt good. I’ve decide I want to be young-at-heart.

  2. Happy Birthday! I hope you have a wonderful day and take time to relax and celebrate.

  3. fabulous. make a collage!

  4. I definitely lean toward the sentimental… I frequently remind myself that it’s the memory, not the object (in my case, mostly tiny little baby clothes), that I really want to hold on to. I love that you saved all those things! And the letter writing is so sweet. A few years ago, I trashed a big collection of letters written to me by my childhood penpal (I saved a handful of them, but not FIVE shoeboxes worth). I didn’t need to keep them, and I don’t regret tossing them, but still I think we are the tail-end of the last generation of letter writers, and there’s something about that that makes me feel very sentimental.
    Brooke recently posted…April 6My Profile

  5. Happy birthday!

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