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Friday, April 28, 2023

Dismantling a Life

Moving on --

As I’ve gone about this past week, packing boxes and making trips from the ghost town to the storage yard, I can’t help remembering one of my son’s favorite novels from years back, Snow Crash (1992) by Neal Stephenson. My son’s reading tastes, once he reached adolescence, diverged quite a bit from my own, and he knew Snow Crash wasn’t something I would ever pick up myself, so on a trip from Leland to Kalamazoo he offered to read aloud from it as I drove. I love having someone read aloud to me! -- Though when he was younger and tried with The Hobbit (he loved it so much and wanted to share it with me), I always fell asleep. Come to think of it, our reading tastes diverged about that time, rather than later, as he was big into fantasy, science fiction, and horror (Stephen King his favorite writer for years), and I was not. But Snow Crash held my interest for the trip. Also, as the driver – it was morning, too – I did not have the option of falling asleep.

I don't have to live in this space -- just store "stuff" in it.

The protagonist of Stephenson’s satiric novel is named just that: Hiro Protagonist. In the real world Hiro appears as a pizza delivery person and lives in a storage unit. But has an entirely different and very glamorous life in virtual reality, where his avatar is a warrior prince. Snow Crash has been called “smart, cool, funny, witty, and action-packed,” “mind-altering,” “bizarre, outrageous,” etc., etc. Themes include (this from another online site) “history, linguistics, anthropology, archaeology, religion, computer science, politics, cryptography, memetics, and philosophy.” (What’s not to love?) The plot involves (surprise! not really) a computer virus causing an “infocalypse” that Hiro (or rather his avatar) must oppose in the neon-lit streets of the Metaverse, and the mental visuals keep a reader’s or a listener’s mind jumping back and forth like Roger Rabbit on hallucinogenic drugs.


Not only do I recommend this book, I think I’d put it on a “must read” list, which means I need to go back to it myself. Doesn’t the plot, with its malignant virus, disinformation, virtual reality, and underclass life sound like much of our fearful world today? Is this our future? Did Stephenson think it might be? Do you think it might be? Written in 1992, this novel would be a perfect final bookend to a survey of twentieth-century American literature, in my opinion. (What novel would you choose to begin a 20th-century survey?)


I have strayed far from my intended subject today, “dismantling a life.” Thinking about my storage unit led me off on the tangent, but it was good to work an actual book into a Books in Northport post, n’est-ce pas? 


But, coming back to our sheep – 


After several consecutive winters in a modest rental cabin in an Arizona ghost town, the last place the Artist and I were at home together, the time has come for me to disassemble that life. ‘Disassemble’ was the first word I used in correspondence with friends. Yesterday, however, the word ‘dismantling’ came to mind, and I tried it out this morning on my hiking and dog-walking partner, who is going through her own big upheaval. (Coincidentally, she is moving back to Michigan -- not to my corner of the state, but we’ll visit.) She has been 20 years in her Arizona home and is also de-acquisitioning and packing, day after day. “Dismantling a life,” she repeated over and over, awe-struck. 

One Christmas, not long ago...

Very recently...

My once-cozy corner dismantled.

There are worse ways an established life can be interrupted and lost: bankruptcy, fire, tornado, war, exile are all tragedies that human beings around the world have faced throughout history. In comparison, my move is unbelievably mild: just empty bookcases, blank walls, in place of the formerly cozy, sweet little refuge the Artist and I had created for ourselves. 

“Are you sad?” a friend asked. I told her yes and no. I’m not weepy, let alone panicked or hysterical. I’m going about the tasks of moving one step at a time, one day at a time, in my most pragmatic, get-it-done fashion, which would not have been my modus operandi decades ago, but I am a calmer person now and more confident in my ability to weather life-altering episodes. After all, I’ve already faced the worst: my husband died. Whatever life throws at me now, I just deal with it.


Still, as a sympathetic friend, originally from Kalamazoo and now a dedicated Tucson resident with her husband for decades, noted about all the things I need to pack, store, or donate, “It probably astounds you how much you accumulated over these few years. And because you acquired them together, they are essential; each one holds a story.” It's true, and it’s amazing how certain, very small, and apparently inconsequential items evoke emotion-soaked memories. 


In addition to items in our living space, there are all the outdoor sights – the mountains, the valley, the coming of spring and the backyard bird visitors. Everywhere I look, there are scenes we saw together, and I remember our conversations about what we were seeing. So many memories! The Willcox Livestock Auction, the Willcox Junior Rodeo, ordinary trips to the library and post office, visits with friends in their homes and places of business. On and on and on they go, memories seemingly endless and beyond counting.

One among THOUSANDS of sights we saw together

Driving to Willcox this morning to meet a group of friends for breakfast, I thought of how often people say, “I want my life back!” What they mean, of course, is that they want again the life they used to have, the way things were in the past, before some terrible event occurred. "But just the good parts," one of those breakfast friends pointed out when I shared the thought with her. Right!

Assembly of "ghost town ladies," as I think of them -- such good friends!

The Artist and I had a five-year hiatus in our life together. We thought we had lost each other forever -- and not only what we'd had but what we'd hoped to have. Then, miraculously, we managed to come together again! “I’ve got my life back!” he said joyfully, and I felt the same. But it was more than that. We not only regained what we’d thought lost but built on it and enriched it and made a better life together than it had ever been before. We were even able – a blessing! – to grow old together!

Leaving Phoenix to come "home" to Dos Cabezas

I call it a blessing and a miracle, but naturally it required commitment, dedication, and perseverance through difficult times. Still, it might have been otherwise. We were very, very fortunate.


The truth is that life is time, and time takes all of our lives and dismantles them, sooner or later. “I’ve had a good life,” the Artist said often in his last months. So have I. We had a good life. And soon I will be back in my Michigan farmhouse and my Michigan bookstore, and Sunny and I will be welcoming friends to a different sort of country scenery. And that will be good, too. 


Dawn said...

Yes it will be good to be back in your Michigan home, and the bookstore, and you have many many friends there...but I understand how hard it must be to leave a place you loved so much, especially since your Artist was last there. It's been so obvious how much you love it there. I will miss seeing the sights in the desert as well.

Laurie said...

Beautifully expressed,dearest Pamela. So tender and loving and clear-eyed and full of gratitude and wisdom and strength. It's been good having this glimpse into your waning days in the ghost town. And it will be lovely having you back in Michigan!

Betsy Braun said...

Thanks for sharing your thoughts as you pack up one part of life to carry on in another. So many memories, but many more to create. XOXO

P. J. Grath said...

Life is change, though, right? And what's around the next corner has not yet been revealed. But I appreciate your company on the journey, Dawn.

P. J. Grath said...

Thank you, dear Laurie. I hope to see you in the 'zoo -- and/or have another Leelanau visit from you and your poet friend.

P. J. Grath said...

Ah, Betsy! Yes, memories! Hope you make a Leland visit this summer --

Karen Casebeer said...

Safe travels to Michigan, Pamela. Am I understanding correctly that you won't return to your Wilcox cabin next winter?

P. J. Grath said...

Correct. Things change. See you in Leelanau.

Ruminating said...

Dear Pamela,

Do I understand from this blog that this trip back to Michigan isn't just an annual/seasonal migration with the birds but really leaving your beloved place? What will next winter hold? You will always have the memories and the shared object, but you are giving up the place? I look forward to seeing you in Northport.


P. J. Grath said...

Yes, Emita, more than the seasonal migration I expected. Quite an upheaval, and I have no idea whatsoever what next winter will hold at this point. But then, we never really do, do we? It will be good to see you again, too!