Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book #33: The Turbulence of Moving

"As he walked slowly about the empty, echoing rooms on that bright September morning, the Professor regarded thoughtfully the needless inconveniences he had put up with for so long; the stairs that were too steep, the halls that were too cramped, the awkward oak mantles with thick round posts crowned by bumptious wooden balls, over green-tiled fire-places."  -Willa Cather, The Professor's House

Sadly, I have not been able to write or blog much lately, because we're in the process of moving.  Our loft has been dismantled into a series of half-packed boxes and our magnificent wall of books is no more.  (When Chris first asked me if I wanted to move in with him eight months ago, the thought of combining our book collections to expand his already impressive library was most alluring....  But now, the shelves are bare, leaving my soul feeling a little barren.  Tools are cast on the coffee table and the place looks like such a construction site that we've even stopped washing the dishes.)

I was thinking about novels about moving houses....  The Professor's House came to mind.  It's a novel about a professor who should be on cloud nine - he's just won a prestigious academic prize enabling him to build a luxurious new house - but instead he finds himself melancholy and nostalgic.  In the midst of packing, he becomes lethargic and irrationally attached to his old house, which, despite all its inconveniences and shabbiness, is replete with the memories he associates with "home."  So he turns inward, recoils from reality.  Curls up in a ball in his attic study.  Memories of childhood give way to fantasies of his best student, a young man named Outland who died in the First World War.  But before his death, Outland and the professor became close and the stories that Outland told him about his youth linger on in the professor's imagination.  Outland spent one summer exploring a mesa in New Mexico, where he discovered the relics of a dead civilization - the treasures of antiquity.  The romance of Outland's life catches hold in the professor's mind as everything his own life is not.  Vigorous.  Manly.  In touch with nature.  The more he fantasizes about Outland's adventures the more paltry his own accomplishments seem.

Moving, in other words, can be very dismantling to one's identity.  All the familiar objects that surround me in my everyday life feel strangely animate, touched with memories and emotions, as I rip them out of their familiar context and box them up.  Take them away from me and my very sense of "self" starts to slip away....

Since my undergrad days until present, I've moved thirteen times.  Maybe that's why I was so unstable during my twenties, while pursuing grad school, research fellowships and the peripatetic life of a professor peddling her trade, suitcase overflowing with scruffy books and crumpled syllabi.....  A lot of packing up house, a lot of purging (my books were always the hardest to part with).  I'm glad to have kissed that life goodbye.

Next week, Chris and I will be in our new place, and the front room with the bay window will be set up as our new library, where I will do my writing.


Mimi said...

Leslie, your blog inspires me to reread The Professor's House, which I read some years ago. Moving is so uprooting and disorienting but your new place with your boyfriend sounds like a fresh start especially the library for your writing!

Leslie Shimotakahara said...

I have packed my last box and we are set to move tomorrow morning. Thanks, Mimi - yes, I'm looking forward to a fresh start!


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About Me

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Toronto, ON, Canada
Leslie Shimotakahara is a writer and recovering academic, who wanted to be simply a writer from before the time she could read. Hard-pressed to answer her parents’ question of how she would support herself as a writer, Leslie got drawn into the labyrinthine study of literature, completing her B.A. in Honours English from McGill in 2000, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in Modern American Literature from Brown in 2006. After graduation, she taught English at St. Francis Xavier University for two years. Leslie woke up one morning and realized that she’d had enough of the Ivory Tower. The fact that she wasn’t doing what she wanted to do with her life loomed over her, and the realization was startling. It was time to stop studying and passively observing life and do something real instead. She needed to discover herself and tell her own story. This blog and the book she has written under the same title (Variety Crossing Press, spring 2012) are her foray. Leslie's writing has been published in WRITE, TOK: Writing the New Toronto, Maple Tree Literary Supplement, and GENRE.