Bookshelves and New York Therapists

Moving is an inevitable activity if you don’t want to stay exactly as you are. Which more or less kinda sucks, if you don’t like to move. Or, if you don’t like exactly where you are. I’ve moved a lot in my life, and I totally hate moving. But I’ve also never found a place where I was happy enough to take root. I’m not sure, looking back, where I was the happiest. There are happy moments everywhere in a life–some are even bound to exist in cesspools. I have happy memories in Arkansas, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and even Philadelphia. Which, of course, leads me to the cliche that “happiness is just a state of mind.” Too true.

I have this New York therapist – because in New York, you’re kinda behind the times without a therapist (it’s not just Woody Allen anymore, kids) and I have kept this New York therapist despite leaving the city a year ago–now, we just have skype sessions (modern technology is fucking amazing). So on a weekly basis, I sit down and “video-chat” with my New York therapist (which no I’m not going to stop phrasing it like that because it makes me feel cool, like “I was wearing my CHANEL bracelet.”), and I talk about my life, my confusion, my desire to not be confused about life and all the things one discusses with their New York therapist.

One of the things that came up recently was my desire for a bookshelf. And this was kinda big–for me. Because I started to realize what a bookshelf meant to me. A bookshelf means “home.”

I used to walk around the apartments I lived in, and I’d always find myself by the bookshelf, staring over the titles of the books there and thinking, “this is who I am… the person who’s nutty enough to have Calvin and Hobbes next to Plato next to David Mamet.” In my bookshelf, there’s no order except for my order–books are arranged by the subconscious. And even then, they’re hard to find.

Once, I was so broke in Louisiana that my roommate and I burned books to cook food. No lie. I was in college and our electricity went out and there was no money to get it back on. So my roommate and I sat down at the fireplace and cooked green beans in the can and tomato soup over roasting books. I made sure they weren’t books I liked, of course. That might have been the lowest point of my life. Or at least, my economy.

In New York, I hauled around the same bookshelf I had since I was 17–a cheap, fiberboard piece of crap from Arkansas Wal-Mart. Nonetheless, it stayed with me for well over 10 years–through a marriage, a divorce, a lot of heartbreaks, move-ins, move-outs, and all the rest that happens in a life. When I left, after hauling that bookshelf from Arkansas to Louisiana to New Jersey and New York–I left it. I mailed the most important books home to my grandmother and left the rest. I consider it like the fireplace fodder–except maybe it ended up in a better ends.

Since that day, I haven’t had a bookshelf. I lived in Arkansas for a summer before moving back to New York. I was determined to live in this city that seemed such a harsh reality. And largely, I succeeded. I worked as a maitre’ d and then as a bartender for 2 years. When I left again, to teach at a summer camp in Mississippi, I pretty much figured I’d return after spending the summer away.

I decided after spending the summer in the south that I was too tired of New York–I couldn’t face going back to the constant stream of people and struggle. I decided to move to Philadelphia, instead. And after a month, and Philadelphia failed, I returned. And I probably, in all of my life and all of my confusion, had never felt lower. I still, by the way, didn’t have a bookshelf.

My year in Arkansas which followed was an awakening one. I got a job as a freelancer writing online–which made things better. I started coming to terms with how and why I’d failed time and time again. I spent a year away from men and romance and all of that – which more or less sucked, but was probably necessary. And all this time, I talked to my New York therapist. My little, personal Freudian analyst. If she were Freudian. Which she’s not, as far as I know.

The concept of the bookshelf took form in the past few months, after I’d decided to move to northern California. Another big move. A new coast. And a lot of fear. And yet, I wanted, more than anything–to find a home. Not a home where I was from–because I never wanted that. Sadly. I always wished my family could have just made different choices–settled in California or Florida or New York–at least SOMEWHERE that had an ocean within reasonable distance. But since they didn’t, I was destined to live far away–wherever the gypsy in my heart took me. Wherever the lure of a bookcase that said “home” loomed in the distance…

(to be continued)



  1. I’m intrigued by your post. I moved around a lot for about seven years. Then I was diagnosed with recurrent depressive disorder and treated for it successfully. Been in the same place for the past 21 years.

    I hope to move from Baltimore in several years. It’s not where I want to stay permanently. Actually, I’d like to retire to a boat in the Caribbean, at least for a while.

    Am interested in finding out how you like California.

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