Clearing up after someone has moved, or moved on, is similar to downsizing in preparation to move along. We did a lot of that in the summer of 2018 as we packed out of Taiwan on the way to new lives in America. One of our commendable-but-difficult-to-manage habits has to do with books, which we acquire, read, then put onto a shelf. Over the decades in Taiwan we’d often given away hundreds at a time (every few years there were that many in surplus). We had cabinets with about 80 feet of shelf space, but from time to time had to double stack things. It was not so much that we planned to re-read each book as that we were reluctant to give any of them up.
When one of our children was about 3, the idea of having “collections” was appealing. After finishing a milkshake, the straw became part of “my collection”. These collections were left out on tabletops and other surfaces to keep them active and in mind. If any should be put into a drawer or cabinet, it would be forgotten until serious cleanout time, months or years later.
There are artists who love to find these caches of forgotten items and turn them into various collage pieces in which coherence and whimsy can both be found. I’m not that sort of artist (if indeed, “artist” I am). Collections have become more interesting to me lately, though. In the boxes we brought to Michigan from Taiwan there were 3 or 4 hard-disks and lots of floppies. These contain letters I wrote long ago, hymns I composed, articles I produced for faculty convocations at the schools where I taught, and (ugh) the texts of sermons I had preached, thinking myself clever. There are surely enough words in there to amass into a book. But books are not merely collections of words.
Unlike an artist’s collage or a mosaic that combines pieces and brings delight, a collection of my prose would, if the paper and ink were wasted thereupon, bring stupor. It’s value would be found in its soporific qualities.
Even a rock collection can be recycled into the stones that go into the concrete of a driveway.
Maybe there’s a use for my life’s work in a similar location.
David Alexander now resides in Holland, MI after 39 years in Taiwan.