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turtle shells

I’d have more time for blogging and bike-riding if I didn’t waste so many days packing and unpacking. I moved again this past weekend, to the 14ème arrondissement, my third time since August. Or was it the fourth?

I’ve had a handful of major border-crossing moves just in the past two years, and every move calls for the same routine. I make an inventory: throw-out pile, sell-off pile, give-away pile, hopeless nostalgia pile, storage pile, keeper pile. Then I pack up the keepers — the clothes, the shoes, the music, the films, the books, the photos, the cameras, the recording equipment, the art pieces, the fancy markers, the chopsticks, the tea mugs. It all gets more refined every time. The keeper pile shrinks. The stakes get steeper. Which heels am I really going to wear in the next few months? Do I need this jacket? My record collection was decimated over four years ago during a major cross-country move. I gave away my turntable at that point. CDs don’t tend to move well, and most of the ones I haven’t passed off or sold for grocery money over the years fit into just a few boxes that are currently collecting dust in my parents’ house in Toronto. All my tapes are stacked there too, but they somehow feel more valuable.

My book pile has gone through the greatest transformation, and is probably the most revealing. Deciding which ones to bring and which ones to tuck away for less transitory days is the hardest part of moving. I spend hours standing in front of my bookshelf each time, going through each title, weighing my attachment. The stack I’m unwilling to part with has shrunk in size as the distances-to-be-traversed have grown, but there are a few constants I can’t seem to bear leaving behind. Here are the current contents of my shelf:

1. Language books

Spanish, French, Portuguese and Arabic dictionaries, grammar books, and texts. There are, like, thirteen of these. As one tongue gets stronger, the others inevitably grow weaker, and I have to keep these around to stay on top of my linguistic game. I don’t have an English dictionary or a thesaurus. I do have an English grammar guide and a copy of the AP stylebook, but they both somehow feel like burdens, and I wish I had left them behind. I feel more and more comfortable falling back on my ESL maker-upper instincts when it comes to my second tongue. English is so much more interesting when you approach it as play.

2. Books by friends

Social Acupuncture by Darren O’Donnell. Enter the Babylon System by Rodrigo Bascunan and Chris Pearce. The Graves Are Not Yet Full, by a former (and favourite) professor, Bill Berkeley.

This section needs additions. Friends, brilliant friends, please publish more of your words for me.

3. Books that are friends

Green Grass, Running Water by Thomas King. The Alchemist and The Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho. Blindness and The Cave (not as good as the first, and no, I don’t want to see the film) by José Saramago. Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire. The Swinging Bridge by Ramabai Espinet.

My judgment flawed in places. I regret a few I’ve left behind, and rue the weight of some I was too eager to let slip through. Oh symbolism, you are the heaviest of all.

4. Book that are reminders

Out of Place by Edward Said. Black Skin, White Masks by Franz Fanon. Shah of Shahs by Ryszard Kapuscinski. There are others, but not here.

5. Books i should have read already

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James. The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion.

The first, picked up years ago in the East Village with a friend, along with copies of Bidoun and Wax Poetics. I promised him I would read. The second, passed down by a friend in first year university via her anarchist white hippie dread boyfriend. That dude was such an ass, pompous and misogynistic. He works as a rap promoter now, I think. I promised her I would read. The third, recommended by one of the gentlest, most surprising, quietly perceptive editors I have ever had the honour of working with. He told me, “you should read more Didion.” I promised myself I would.

Maybe before the air gets too cold for fingers to turn pages, I’ll find some afternoon sunny bench in Parc Montsouris and get down to it. I’ll reconnect with these friends, friends of friends, textual bricks in my mobile home.

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