Sunday, March 23, 2014

Unpacking the music

A couple of weeks ago my son Drake was here for the weekend with his roommate K. I was bemoaning the length of time I was taking to unpack from my move. It has become embarrassing for me, but in order to unpack some things I have to wait to hire a contractor to do some work. And then there are some other things I just haven't known how to deal with.

I pointed at 3 big boxes of CD's that were sitting in the small parlor beside the art I haven't hung. I said, "I definitely don't want to keep all of those CD's. I need to sort through them and get rid of a bunch, but I don't know what to do with the ones I don't want."

Drake said, "You can try taking them to a second-hand music shop, and see if they'll give you something for them."

"I thought of that," I said, "but a lot of them aren't and never were popular music. It's not like I'm going to get rid of my Monkees CD's."

"You could use them for skeet shooting," K said.

Drake and I stared at him. He has an unusual sense of humor -- dark and dry. But he seemed serious.

"I can't use them for skeet shooting," I said. "They have music on them. Somebody else might want to listen to them."

He shrugged. "If you don't want them, skeet shooting is as good a use as any for them."

I just shook my head at him. Ridiculous. You don't ruin perfectly good music by shooting at your CD's with a gun. Not that I'm a skeet shooter anyway. Besides, these CD's were precious. Somebody wrote and sang those songs, and I listened and sang along and danced to them, and sometimes I cried to them. Skeet shooting my ass.

The next time I looked at those boxes though, I remembered what K had said. And it struck me like a shard from a shattered clay pigeon that I was refusing to unpack because I thought something I didn't want had value .... which meant I had to either keep it or get the value back. And I was wrong.

If I never listen to them again, those CD's have no value at all. In fact, they are costing me space and worry. They have negative value. It doesn't matter if I take them to the resale store, where I might not get enough to cover my gas and time, or if I drop them at Goodwill or if I take them to Best Buy to recycle them for the aluminum and plastic (yes, you can do that) or if I stop one of the neighborhood cart pushers and ask if he can recycle them. It doesn't fucking matter. The music and the memories that are tied to them shouldn't tie me to them.
Then again, I thought, if I'm not going to use them for music, I could make other shit with them. Turns out Pinterest is full of CD crafts and projects. Like this homemade disco ball. I found a shit ton of ideas for purses and clocks and Christmas ornaments and mosaic tables. Endless.

And stupid for someone like me who does not need one more fucking project.

No, the CD's were not -- are not -- precious. And that's that. I needed to change my thinking, not change the CD's into desk accessories.

So I finally started going through them. It took me several hours to sort them into piles: keep, sell or recycle, give away to a friend, or throw away. At the end of it, I added the "give away to a friend" pile to the "get rid of however I can" pile.

I probably could have done the job faster, but a lot of those CD's had strong memories attached to them. Some were ripped and burned copies that friends or former lovers made for me. Some of them were thoughtful gifts from people who are long gone from my life now. Some of them were from concerts I'd gone to where I'd loved the live music, but the CD didn't give me the same thrill. Or I bought the CD just to support the artist. Some of those weren't even unwrapped.

I persisted though and culled about a third from the herd. That's not bad. What I kept will fit into one section of my TV cabinet.

And the others are in a box waiting to go .... somewhere. I still can't decide, but I'm on spring break, and my deadline for getting them out is Friday. If I get close enough to a cart pusher and he wants them, then that's where they will go. Otherwise, I'm leaning toward Goodwill. I just don't want to deal with hauling them someplace and finding out the young clerk will offer me $5 just to get rid of me.

Sorting and getting rid of those CD's has been a valuable unpacking lesson, and one that will prepare me for doing the same difficult job with books. I realized that I don't have to keep an object that has memories tied to it. The object isn't the memory, and it's not disloyal to the memory to let go of the object.

But I also learned that the music on those CD's doesn't have to be kept. The songs still belong to the people who wrote and recorded them, but they don't physically have to either stay with me or be sold, or even given, to other people. Their only value comes when someone actually listens to them. And I don't. I haven't for years in some cases. The CD's aren't really the songs.

It seems so simple and logical when I write it, but obviously I had an urge to hoard emotions tied up in those CD's that needed to be unpacked. And unpacking I am. Slow and steady.


  1. What if you stacked them up on the corner with a beautiful sign saying, "Free Music," or hid them in little spots around town? Then you could imagine that the exact right person who needed to hear those songs would find those CD's. I once found a CD case full of mix tapes in the middle of the road. I stopped and picked it up. It was delightful listening to what someone else valued and loved to hear. I found some new music to enjoy too!

    1. It's a great idea in principle, but I think I might risk a ticket for littering. A couple of people read this and want to go through them though. And I might leave some at church or someplace like that. I love the idea of found music, especially a mix tape.

  2. The object isn't the memory. Yes. I'm working on letting go of objects that no longer bring joy into my life, while retaining the memories of times when they still did.

    1. It's getting easier with practice, for me anyway. I still have too much stuff. I still have too much stuff that belongs to my kids that they may never really want. I gave away something of Drake's when I was moving from the house he grew up in that he really treasured, so I'm more careful with their stuff now.

  3. I will gladly take any and all cds you no longer want, even the ripped ones. I might even throw in a few bucks! I have been wanting to see your new house anyway.

    1. I'm sorry I did it, but I already threw the ripped ones away before I realized they could be recycled. But I've got a whole box of others you can come and go through. I'd love to show you my house!

  4. I love the idea of dropping them all over the city. And of sharing them with friends. (Say, you could donate a basket of "Reticula's Musical Memories" to the Service Auction!)

    And if you're worried about losing those memories, a few photos of the CDs spread out in batches on the floor could give you a way to reminisce (storage space free), and thanks to the Internet, a way to get some of the songs back if you ever need another listen.

    1. I like the idea of anonymously sharing them too, but then the mom voice in my head says, "What if everybody dropped their unwanted CD's all over the city?" I have an overactive conscience. The service auction is a possibility, depending on how many I give away before then.