A bit of time has passed since I last wrote about my office situations at work and at home. Recently, I’ve had a bit of a shift in both. As I’ve noted, I’ve left off teaching at DeVry (and I’m not poised to return to it in any other place, either), and, as part of that, and stemming from a desire to reduce the amount of stuff I will have to move next time I move (and another move will happen, perforce), I (with no small help from my wife and the loan of a truck from my father) went through the piled boxes of books, culling them; more than half of what was there went to a new home. (The journals were less fortunate.)
Consequently, there’s a lot more space in the small office that takes up most of the east end of the mobile home where my family and I live. (Yes, it’s a trailer. Whether we count as trailer trash is up to debate.) It’s not, as had been the case for some two and a half years, crammed full of things I thought I might use but now never will; I can move around in it, access what I do have out on my shelves without tripping over other stuff that served no purpose for me, even if I did not yet recognize that it merely made a messy mausoleum for a life I would never be allowed to live–and which I should not try to, even now. I can still do the writing and research I want to do, and I can do it without the pressure of “publish or perish” or the chimerical hope that getting one more thing out will let me have a full-time, continuing job.
I find myself feeling oddly about the change, though. In part, it’s due to sunk-cost issues. There’s a joke about a person arrested for stealing $10,000 in books from the college bookstore–and the hope that the three books were recovered. It’s an exaggeration, perhaps, but 1) college texts are far from cheap; 2) my wife and I were in college and graduate school for close to thirty years, cumulatively; and 3) both of us have multiple degrees in English. It can be imagined easily that we’ve spent lots of money on books (not a little of which came from loans we’ll be paying back for decades–and, indeed, I’ve been paying on my student loans for some ten years, now). Setting them aside needed to be done, but I am not immune to the fallacy of feeling, at some level, that I ought to have kept them and used them–despite all evidence to the contrary.
More, though, is that renouncing (many of) the trappings of an academic life is a renunciation of (all but a vestige of) an academic identity. Admittedly, I’ve been working on that for a while (as witness here and elsewhere in this webspace), and every step I take into being an expatriate (here and here) or exile has felt a tearing-away. Doing as much as I did in pruning away the books and journals felt like a piece of me was ripped out rather than ripped off, and the preposition matters. If, as I’ve noted before, the home offers, among others, a place to exteriorize interiority, to have much of what corresponds to the inner self taken away–even if given to the use of others, may they have joy of it!–is…not easy.
I will adjust, of course; there is no other option for me. And I know that the work of cleaning out was well done and needed doing. But I cannot deny that I feel…lessened in some ways by it.