Friday, May 8, 2009

     My daughter says that it's "Lower East Side Clutter" meaning that everyone we knew who was living down there in those olden days had rooms filled with clutter. Nothing was particularly neat and much of it was extremely messy.  Of course, I had much less then, fewer papers, fewer books, fewer boxes of photographs and three-ring binders of negatives, no clay pieces stored in boxes. The little bit of extra money I had went for film, printing paper and sometimes for books about photography. (I wouldn't imagine buying photo books any more.)
     But what Krissy means is that nothing was in it's place. None of us would have known where the place was. There was a general air of confusion and poverty. I've maintained that, partly because being a middle-class person was a forbidden thought so that putting together a living space that in any way might have mirrored the one where I grew up, at least before my mother died, was impossible. Then, I didn't have any extra money, so I collected whatever furniture I could. Krissy's father found my kitchen table and four chairs on the streets back in the late sixties. I finally threw out the chairs and replaced them with inexpensive ones that aren't nearly as comfortable. But I still have that rickety table. Whatever extra money I have had has been spent on film, supplies and cameras, video and still, and put into savings.
    But I have amassed books over the years. There are the important books, those my mother had read, that were neatly arranged on the living room bookshelves, and that are now stored in boxes in the attic after I packed up  what I wanted from my father's house after he had died and Mari, my step-mother, went to a nursing home. I had to have those books, though I'm  not sure why. They were 'mine,' though Krissy thinks they are hers. 
     They are the legacy from my mother, books that I read when I was in high school -- Hesse, Forster, Wolfe (I may not even be spelling their names correctly.) They were books that told me nothing of the life that she'd left me with, one of chaos, a father who drank and a first step-mother who was  an aberration born of my father's drinking and the four long years he watched my mother struggle with cancer. Whatever happened to their marriage during that time has remained a secret, but the aftermath of their struggle was his instantly being enthralled with an ex-army nurse with a nasty mouth and all the seductive weapons of 'common' women that my mother would never have used. (My mother used Chanel No. 5 and a bit of powder.)
    But books, that's what I'm talking about. My books, ones that I've bought over the years, perhaps in college before I got really poor, and then in the last twenty or thirty years when I had a steady salary. I'm making yet another attempt at throwing out what I don't need and books are an easy place to start. A few years ago, when I moved from here to there and then back, another sad story, I got rid of endless books, but now I want to do it again. 
     But each book has it's history. For instance, a former student told me that I had to buy the autobiography of Black Elk. I did, while she was watching. And never read it. I am so saddened by books and films about slavery, the holocaust and anything to do with Native Americans that I avoid them. I couldn't open it, though I know how important it was to her --- this intense woman who had been one of nine or ten children born to a Jewish mother and a Catholic father. I photographed her with her mother who had developed breast cancer and died not that long afterwards for a series of mother-daughter images that I was working on in a rather feeble way. It never went anywhere. I think that my confusion over my own mother was so strong that I couldn't pull any cohesion into the series, though the photograph I took for the woman who wanted me to learn from the Black Elk book was, I think, important for her.
     I can't even pretend to myself that this new attempt to pare down books will do any good. My friend, Barbara McInnis, told me that she'd visited a number of women who had finally found housing after having been homeless for a number of years and around and on their beds were piles of clutter. The need to have everything there, in reach, a mess, was so deep that they slept in a nest of chaos. She and I laughed since we so shared their urges.
    Barb finally decided to move from her apartment in Forest Hills. She was a pack-rat of the highest caliber. It was almost impossible to walk down her hallway, much less to get into any of the rooms. She knew she had a problem, but had never been able to solve it. She decided, she told me, that it would take years of therapy to figure out why she needed all the things she'd never use, so she forced herself to hire some guy who came over for a couple of nights on Tuesday nights. She sat with three labeled cartons in front of her -- a keeper, a so bad it gets thrown away, and a give-away to charity. When she got to the point where she started looking back into the charity box and thinking about whether she really wanted to give away that precious whatever, she knew it was time to stop. So, he took away the two boxes, out of her sight.
    She finally got rid of enough, a heroic task, so that she moved to a smaller apartment in East Boston, one that you could actually walk into. Barb was a fabulous character, a woman that countless people tell stories about and thank for her unwavering care of folks in the homeless community.

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