olivia’s last entry:
Solving one problem can sometimes lead to a whole new one. My problem was living in Spain. I solved it by returning to Montreal. It led a new problem: realizing I’m a hoarder.
While I was in Europe, I had a subletter who agreed to occupy my fully furnished apartment, but wasn’t interested in any of my…stuff. So I had to pack it up and store it in the basement for the year. The process caused a few conflicts between my husband and I. He wanted me to get rid of stuff, and even when I did, it didn’t seem to make a dent. So our basement was turned into a depot with barely enough room to make a path from the stairway to the dryer. I wasn’t even careful about how I packed. And I especially gave no thought to how arduous it would be to unpack it all a year later.
As we migrated from Florida to Ireland, England and eventually Spain, I kept shedding stuff that was in the suitcase. Flights within Europe are as cheap as you’ve heard, but they come with severe baggage restrictions. We had to shell out about $200 for the “extra weight” I was carrying from Dublin to London. My husband scowled at me when I said, “I told you I couldn’t pack light!”
In Spain, I lived with the same set of clothes for many months. I wore the same 6 outfits, and often. I ran out of clothes quickly and would struggle to coordinate an efficient laundry schedule with my husband, who always seemed to need clean garments at the same time as me.
I got used to a limited wardrobe and it didn’t bother me. So when I looked at the clothing stuffed in a bunch of boxes upon my return to Montreal, I had a whole new perspective. What was I doing with all of it? When would I wear it? How did I acquire so many things that I can’t even stand to look at now?
I lived with next to nothing for a year. It’s what I got used to, and the boxes were just weighing me down now. I even injured my back schlepping them from the basement to the main floor.
Over the years, I’d held on to the silliest things for even sillier reasons. Just in case costumes. Just in case I want to finish this scrapbook. Just in case I’ll need this beautiful box one day. Just in case I want to use this toy I haven’t used since I was 7. Just in case I fit into those jeans again. Just in case I read this book. Just in case I have kids who are curious about ‘80s sticker albums. Just in case this junk has any value to someone other than myself.
After a year, the “just in case” rationale seemed ridiculous and increasingly difficult to vindicate. I took a cutthroat approach. Do I use it often? Yes: I keep it. No: I either give it away to charity or chuck it.
In all, I filled two large garbage bags with stuff even hobos wouldn’t want, and gave away two full car loads of clothing, books and…more stuff…to a charitable organization.
A week later, I had a homecoming party. I’d unpacked all the boxes and placed everything back. My house was in order, and with the purge, a little bare. One of my guests remarked, “So you’re still unpacking, right?” “No, I’m done,” I told him. “Really?” he said. “Where’s all your stuff?”
The stuff occupied a lot of physical space in our home. Now that it’s gone, I don’t even remember what a lot of it was, and I certainly can’t recall why I wanted to keep it in the first place.
If it turns out that I miss any of it, I’ll replace it. Most things are replaceable. Especially when it’s just stuff.
i received an email from dwayne’s photolab in kansas that my kodachrome rolls of film did not reach the processing deadline. so, they are sending em’ back to me – and probably process them as black and white instead.
anyway, one of those rolls is dedicated to my last theme for the art of waiting project – which is about spending the holidays in the world’s greatest city of new york.
so much for 10-inch snow and chapped lips, i can’t wait to look at the photos i’ve shot for the last year for the TAOW project.
thanks for your patience, let’s start wrapping up…
I keep telling myself I’m prepared, knowing full well that I’m not. It’s time to leave Europe and return home.
My husband and I were able to avoid separation for most of the year, but we’ll have to do this home stretch on different continents. Them’s the rules of immigration.
I could have stayed longer, all told. In the end, though, the lack of purpose took its toll. We dream of doing nothing until there’s nothing to do, because doing nothing is a perfect ideal until it ceases to be temporary. That’s the kicker. Most people enjoy their vacations because they know exactly when they’ll be going home. And when they do, the life they’re used to will be waiting for them. It’s more comforting than you think. Firm footing is just one of those things we take for granted, and it’s terribly disorienting when it’s taken away.
Despite this year of discovery and travel, I’ve also felt like a vagrant. None of the houses we stayed in were a home. I wouldn’t be living in any of them long enough to make myself at home. Or maybe I just didn’t want to be at home in those places, because early on in the year, I realized how much I missed the only home I’ve ever really made for myself: Montreal.
The homesickness didn’t get in the way of enjoying this year. Spain made for some lovely memories and experiences. I’ll especially miss the food; you don’t know what tomatoes are missing until you have one in Spain. I can’t get Barcelona’s donut-shaped urban blocks out of my head. And I know I’m going to want to get that Madrid feeling back some day.
I’m not quite done with Spain. I’m just done with this year.
I keep making promises to myself to do certain things one last time. But I never make it to the beach, or the seaside bistro that makes the meanest patatas alioli, or the pub in the mountains. I spend most of my last moments in Spain planning my husband’s surprise birthday party, which is the only thing I really care about right now. I’m leaving just two days after his birthday. I don’t know when he’ll be allowed to return to Canada, so I want these last few moments together to be all about the reasons we chose each other to begin with.
So for one last time until…hopefully just a few months from now…we enjoy a few too many pints, lots of good food, and the company of the friends we’ve made in this strange little British colony on Costa Blanca.
My husband keeps reminding people that I’m leaving soon. He wants the night to be all about me, but I keep fighting it. That’s another reason we’re together: we neither one of us really care about birthdays, Christmas or general anniversaries. We’ll take any excuse to have a party and refuse to exchange gifts. It’s not for everyone, but it’s definitely us.
I wish I could leave Spain without leaving him. Most temporary arrangements have a deadline. Ours doesn’t. It’s a “whenever” with no clear expiry date. This is one of those moments when I wish I were a Buddhist.
There’s silver lining. I get to have one last night in London before returning to Montreal. I couldn’t have planned a better segue myself, which is why my husband did.
What I’ll miss most about Spain are the bits he’s in.
I Waited Too Long
The holidays got me. Heaven forbid, I actually relaxed and got all out of routine. I slept in. I stayed up. I ate my fill. The result of all this enjoyment was my first real Art of Waiting slip up. Waiting too long, my last photos of the project came not in December 2010, but in January 2011. I cheated.
Allow me some defense. My little plastic camera needs daylight, and there is so little of it in these mid-winter months. So I was waiting for the time when I could wait intentionally, and all by myself, and in the several short hours of sunshine, outside in the crisp cold. I was waiting for what never happened. That’s one of the problems I have with waiting. Waiting leads to shelving. To putting things off. To forgetting. To “too late”.
Looking back on this year long odyssey of intentional limbo I’ve learned a lot about myself and waiting. I’ve learned that good things do come to those who wait (as I’m waiting for my film to prove). I’ve learned that waiting slows me down, and when I take the time to listen to my insides, there is a lot to hear. I’ve also learned that I am not a patient man.
This last picture, fittingly, captures my failure to wait. It is a small moment that happens dozens of times in a day.
I am leaving a brunch with my family, heading out into a block long walk to the cold car. My family includes two young kids with legs half the length of mine. Legs that take twice as long to walk. I am getting colder. Under the guise of opening the doors and warming up the car, I refuse to wait. Impatience rules as I dart towards the car, leaving kids and wife in my snowy dust. Arriving at the car, I take out my camera, turn around and capture my wife, walking with plodding patience to the car. This picture, while unremarkable, may be my most typical and true of my real relationship with waiting.
When it comes to putting things off and forgetfulness, I may be a professional, but that is not the waiting I long for. If this project has revealed my waiting weaknesses, it has also given me waiting to wish for. I want to master the art of waiting; intentional, purpose full, mind full waiting. Waiting that sees. At this art I am at best an apprentice, but the problem is there are so few to study under. We are all of us hurrying forwards, running to stand still, into another year that we cannot believe has blurred by.
Dave Von Bieker