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Russell Frank: Moving Day Cometh

by on May 25, 2012 6:00 AM

Need a cheese grater? I have four.

I became aware of grater glut while boxing up my kitchen stuff as part of a larger effort to empty my house by next week, when the new owners take possession.

Before I started packing I thought this was going to be an easy move. A massive de-cluttering effort had preceded the house’s debut on the real estate market in April. Some of the drawers and cupboards were bare. Others had only a few items in them.

You know what, though? There are a lot of drawers, cupboards and closets in a house. A cheese grater here, needle-nosed pliers there and pretty soon you’re talking about real tonnage.

The move is complicated by the complexity of my plans: I’m going away for a year and do not intend to get a new place to live until I get back.

Some of my stuff is going into storage.

Some – scarves, hats, sweaters, coats -- is going to Ukraine, where I’ll spend the last few months of 2012.

Some – surfboard, sunscreen, Grateful Dead T-shirt (OK, I don’t own a surfboard or a Grateful Dead T-shirt) -- is going to California, where I’ll spend the first few months of 2013.

Some, I’m selling.

Some, I’m giving away.

And some is going out to the curb.

The challenge is deciding what to put in each category. So paralyzing is this problem that I was tempted to solve it by simply getting rid of everything – or at least everything beyond the few boxes of clothes and books that I could fit in my car.

But then I thought about coming back to State College next summer and having to buy new versions of all this stuff I already own. To use just one example, it seemed crazy to go to a hardware store at this time next year to replace the perfectly serviceable hammer, wrenches, pliers and screw drivers that I have now. 

Thus I am struggling with ragged shirts, goofy neckties, audio cassettes, decks of cards, linens, coffee mugs and worst of all, the “personal papers.”

I’ve saved these for last. This is the kind of stuff my biographer would be thrilled to find if I ever became famous (not looking too likely): travel diaries, papers I wrote for school, stories I wrote for newspapers, impenetrable poems I wrote, delusionally, for posterity, mushy letters written by long-ago sweeties.

You know the rule of thumb: If you haven’t used something in a year, you should probably lose it. This hoard had languished in my attic, unread, for 16 years.

Still, it’s hard to chuck my writings. They, more than anything else I own, tell a big chunk of my life story, even if I’m the only person interested in that story. Reading what I wrote about reminds me of who I was, what I read and what I was interested in. Reading how I wrote shows me how I’ve changed as a writer.

My teenage scribblings are as ridiculous as the giant “Jewfro” I sported in those days. I had the idea back then that high style in English letters was achieved prior to the 20th century. Forget trying to sound like Ernest Hemingway or Allen Ginsberg. I was going for Thoreau-Wordsworth-Keats-Shakespeare. I carried it off about as well as a kid who grew up in New York could carry off an English accent. A sample, from an essay titled “Progress,” written when I was 16:

Looking about, it is the columns of wood with their dazzling array of plumage that seizes the attention of my wandering eyes. Leaves of every hue imaginable cling desperately to their trees, others float gently downward to rest on my shoulders and the remainder have already succumbed to the inevitable death of winter.

This excerpt will give you an idea of the kind of poetry I was writing:

But as I roll east o’er this ocean of cloud

In this great pseudo-bird
whilst above burns the most intense of indigos…

Makes your teeth hurt doesn’t it? But hey, if you can’t be sophomoric when you’re a sophomore, when can you? And I will say this: As unreadable as this drivel is, I knew how to write a sentence.

Everyone I asked said I should hang on to this stuff, none more emphatically than the friends with whom I played bocce ball while taking a break from my labors. But then, those guys are librarians. I’m surprised they didn’t immediately fetch me some acid-free document storage boxes out of the trunks of their cars.

Well, OK, so I wouldn’t chuck all of my papers. But I couldn’t see keeping all of them, either. My plan: pare it down to one carton’s worth. This, I have done.

Now excuse me whilst I agonize o’er which cheese grater to keep.

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Russell Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. His columns for Statecollege.com won first place in the Commentary-Non Daily category of the Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter 2017 Spotlight contest. A collection of his columns from the past 20 years, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," will be published this fall by the Penn State Press. Before launching his academic career at Penn State in 1998, Frank worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania for 13 years. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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