Notes from a fragmented soul


"When I moved from Holland to where I live now, in Asia, I shipped a container containing all of my books. Because my books, even the ones I have already read, are a part of me. I have to have them with me wherever I go."

So said a Dutch expatriate to me the other day.

He added that he sometimes rereads his old books, and truly enjoys doing that.

For 17 years, in New York, I had added to my steadily growing collection of books, which rose from around 40 to around 2,000 through four changes of residence, often traveling long distances to buy books at library sales, garage sales, and book sales. I hadn't read three-fourths of these books, but they were all in my “To Read or Browse Through” category. They were my companions, pieces of me, and they were spread out in the various rooms of the last proper home that I lived in. Easily accessible, half of them displayed spine-out on mostly tall bookshelves, they were constant sources of consolation, inspiration, pleasure, joy; they were my friends. They were me, many of these having gone into the making of my personality, into my evolving soul.

And then, overnight, my life changed. As a result, the books were boxed and shipped to a cold, dark storage locker; only a few went to a new, much smaller home, which I occupied only briefly, a fraction of those books in turn accompanying me to a smaller residence, a New York city one-bedroom apartment, until that ended four months later and nearly all of those books went into a storage locker.

And then began my wanderings. And through all these wanderings (which on the plus side have allowed me to interact with many different cultures and people), it was only for a brief period that I have had the luxury of having even a single bookshelf containing the books that I love—but in a crowded one-bedroom, these few books were not accessible to the same degree. Only a fraction of my original collection now remains, in a storage locker in New Jersey, a locker that I must pay for but that is far from my reach.

When such changes happen, it is hard to remain whole. It is hard to be the same person that you were. Each day, a different fragment of myself seems to speak or act on my behalf, and each fragment is unaware of, or not in touch with, the other fragments. Some of these fragments are undernourished and waste away. I am not talking of material possessions, but of pieces of my soul: and this includes not just books, but loved ones, and friends, most of whom I am disconnected from.

Even my own books: the books authored by me. I have not seen or touched a few of my own books, my children, for years now, because they are inaccessible to me where I am. These books, too, are very much part of me, and not to have their physical manifestations within easy reach is like not having access to my children . . . (And that's another story.)

Well enough of that . . . back to Obama, the Fiscal Cliff, and the Kardashians / American Idol.
And, by the way, the most brilliant explanation of our democracy yet is the South Park Show in which a Giant Douche is competing with a Turd Sandwich to be mascot of the South Park Elementary School. Unless you've seen it, reading anything else on politics would be a waste.

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