My parents divorced when I was an adult. After they divided their assets, my mom sold the house in order to move someplace not filled with painful memories.
One night, I was helping her pack up her scrapbooking room. Okay, well, my then-boyfriend/now-husband, Frank, was helping her pack up her scrapbooking room. I was mostly thumbing through old photographs.
Mom and Frank were making pretty good progress on deciding which glue sticks and markers to keep, donate, or throw away. Then, out of nowhere, my mother announced, “I’m sinking into a melancholia”—signaling it was time for a break.
I appreciated the remark because it seemed like something from a Chekhov play. You could almost hear the trunks being loaded onto the carriage for the train station as the workmen began chopping down the cherry trees to make way for the new order.
The main difference was that instead of containing a samovar, the scrapbooking room contained about a million stickers from Hobby Lobby.
Of those two styles of packing—Frank’s ruthless efficiency and the mournful, what-is-to-become-of-us? model adopted by my mother and Russian theater—I definitely adhere to the latter.
I have lived with Frank since 2008, and we have moved four times, with a fifth coming up this month. During the packing process, he builds, fills, and tapes up boxes like he’s one of those frighteningly efficient robots at an Amazon fulfillment center.
I, however, follow a more languid pace. Surrounded by the detritus of my past for the purpose of entombing everything in cardboard, I tend to get elegiac and am liable to start cataloging dreams and disappointments.
Such a mood is inimical to productivity. I’ll look at the stack of journals I’m supposed to be packing and decide I should reread the one from 2003. Or I’ll think, Why don’t I test every writing instrument in this place and get rid of the ones that don’t work anymore and are therefore holding me back in subtle ways? Or: Before even starting this project, the wisest course of action is probably for me to become a master of Transcendental Meditation real quick. Or: Circling back to that journal from 2003, maybe I really should have gone to grad school. Maybe that would have made all the difference.
Then, before you know it, I’m trying to find room in my schedule to visit an ashram as well as complete a GRE prep course, and Frank has finished packing the kitchen.
So, really, you tell me who’s more effective: the one who wrapped all the dishes in newspaper, or the one who took the first steps toward a self-actualized future while also—without even trying, I swear—getting out of doing any work?
Maybe I’m just a procrastinator. There’s strong evidence for that in my writing routine, which typically involves more time pacing and snacking than putting hands to keyboard or pen to paper (although I don’t think we should dismiss that theory about all the inkless pens around here holding me back).
When you think about it, writing and packing do share a few things in common. Both have to do with corralling the materials of the past and taking them somewhere new. Not to mention that both activities have given me back pain.
Still, even writing must be better than packing because I have a ton of things I should be putting in boxes right now and instead I’m yammering here with you.