Let Go or Be Dragged

Let Go or Be Dragged

Suggested Listening: “White” by Eraldo Bernocchi.

From what I understand, Let Go or Be Dragged is a Zen proverb and one I’d recently read. Amid a hectic twelve months and strenuous move, those four words gave me pause when they appeared in my social media timeline. 

My fingers hovered over a laptop trackpad, unwilling to scroll. 

Let go or be dragged. I repeated those four words to myself and out loud. 

The proverb was accurate. The proverb was timely. I looked around the apartment I’d occupied for nine years, the longest I’d every resided in one place since I was packing for college. Forty years had passed since then. Forty years’ worth of belongings were stored in closets, in boxes, in cabinets, or proudly displayed on shelves. 

Let go or be dragged. 

No truer words have ever been spoken. Those four words were rich with inference. We could be dragged by emotions. The love that got away. The dream unrealized. The passing of someone dear. The passage of time and children raised, never to be held as infants ever again.

Time moved too fast. I wanted inspiration once again.

We could be dragged by situations. The schools children attended weren’t easily changed. Neither were careers. Family members resided nearby. Yet, dear friends had long since moved away, leaving the drag behind. 

Free of obligations, what held me back were objects. My great aunt’s chair had been dragged across the United States numerous times. Comfortable yet firm, the Edwardian accent chair was an important piece that my aunt had given away, a chair stored at a sibling’s, stored in a garage while I remodeled a house, reupholstered at long last in a fabric I’d long since outgrown. I’d sat in that chair as a child drinking Squirt from a glass bottle. My mother drank vodka in that chair. My daughters curled up in that chair eating ramen and nursing colds. 

The chair was a mighty beast, carted in UHauls and SUVs, national moving vans and probably a Chevy Nova until, reading a Zen proverb, I never wanted to load the chair in another vehicle ever again. I’d decorated around a chair for decades. I was tired. The chair was bored. It was time to let go of the furniture or be dragged.

There were books on shelves that I’d collected from libraries, bookstores, college courses, my late parents, and friends. There were books I’d packed in small boxes purchased especially for keeping books intact. There was tape and the cost of storage and the price of shelving and square footage needed to house books I’d carted over the fruited plane for words I’d never read and never would. 

I was now obligated to house books I’d saved but had long since lost interest in reading. Half the books I’d been gifted never interested me to begin with. Most of the books I’d inherited from my late parents’ shelves were lost in a flood. Obligated to save the authors my late parents preferred, I had no remorse but for the day I carted hundreds of moldy hardbacks to the curb for removal. 

The words were not missed. 

One kitchen drawer housed eighteen tablespoons I could sell for hundreds of dollars and move on at long last. The Rondeau pieces, elegant flatware, were wedding gifts, selected from a registry. The flatware is still weighty, made in Japan. The design is still magnificent, selected to go along with the original Fiesta I’d collected, most of which I’d sold to pay legal fees back in the divorce day. 

Honest, I set eight knives, eight forks, eight salad forks, and eight tablespoons aside. Two place settings were reserved for my older daughter. I gifted my younger daughter the 1950s glasses and pitcher only she used. 

As for the Fiesta, I wrapped two pieces in a box and left the rest — what remained — on a countertop. The Fiesta had served its purpose. That’s what that woman had said when I’d called. The stranger, whose phone number I found on Facebook, had retired several years before. “No one is buying,” she’d said. “But if you leave it at the curb, it will be gone by the morning.”

She was right. 

Needing to raise money, I’d listed on Craigslist, on eBay, and on my website. The neighborhood brothers in the black SUV bought thirty CDs for $30, money handed over in a parking lot. Eva chatting with the brothers whose relatives were serving prison sentences for murder. They’d listen to Jaco Pastorious. The remaining collection was sold to a guy who drove two hours one way. 

I haven’t owned a CD player in years, not since I suffered nerve damage and would never play the bass guitar again. 

I would move on.

But no one was buying. I carted possessions I’d collected for years and piled my belongings beside a fence. I watched dozens of neighbors pick over my possessions. I cried — a release. 

Let go or be dragged. 

I piled what I could take into the back of a college boy’s Jeep Grand Cherokee. He filled the gas tank with my debit card. I left the world I’d known for nine years and the dive of a taco stand behind. 

We crossed the Iowa border sometime after noon. It was October 13th, but I felt lucky. My daughters were on campus and prepping dinner for when we arrived. 

Camping out on a college campus for a week, I snagged a job, landed a ghostwriting position, and got my debut novel, Haunting Patagonia, on the shelves of an independent bookstore. Several weeks prior and with $1 to my name, I had to choose between Ramen and a roll of toilet paper. One week later, my life had changed in days. 

I’d been throwing metaphorical darts at a map for what seemed an eternity. Nowhere seemed affordable. Nowhere seemed opportune. Nowhere seemed interesting enough or accessible. My choices limited, I thought of a college town, one where everything was walkable. I’ve arrived in Ames. 

There are plenty of books, articles, and television shows that discuss downsizing and decluttering. But the ideal way to declutter is by force. I had been carrying about five decades of items I’d never used. I was a consumer, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We like what we like. We purchase items to use and that bring us joy. 

Do you know what I miss? Not the silkscreen of Jim Morrison, framed, a gift from a high school boyfriend. No. I miss my vegetable streamer and the $3 strainer. I will buy another one. 

What I miss is the time I’d wasted on objects that anchored me to a town and a life I didn’t love. I’m not sure I like Iowa very much, but I’m working. I’m writing. The daughters I love are close. They have their side of town, and I have mine. We meet in the middle for coffee. We’re planning for the upcoming holidays.

The holidays will be low key, toned down. This is Iowa, and I have no looming threats to keep up with the Joneses or to watch my back when I venture out on the wrong side of some Chicago part of town. Sans the university, this is Iowa, where one’s A Game is an unheard of term. 

And once again, I’m at odds with my surroundings. But I have a writer’s lair. The freight trains, led by four massive engines, rumble beyond my windows in the dead of night. The birds are nowhere to be found. The call of seagulls at first light is missed. I miss the lakefront. I miss good food.

What matters in life cannot be purchased or replaced. The seagulls and the crash of Lake Michigan’s waves are hours away but alive in my memories and the novels I write. Still, I’m happy again. Or working on that, at least. I have a typewriter and will travel to the most imaginative corners of my mind. My daughters are close. I am free at long last.