MotM Update | Everything You Need
25 February 2019
Everything You Need
What will you take with you when you decide to go?
I’ve packed my suitcase more times than I can count, there’s a system. Socks in one zipper bag, tank tops in another. Jeans remain loose in the big vacuum bag that holds the smaller zipper ones. I’ve refilled every one of those tiny travel bottles with lotions and liquids with the elite precision of an Avon lady-cum-Navy Seal on mission: there will be beauty on this voyage. The procedure is at once tedious and satisfying; it always ends up fitting when you’re sure it won’t.
“Impossible!” my friend said when I texted her a picture of the hundreds of little objects that were going into separate small bags that would be placed into larger bags that would be placed yet into the grand dame of bags, the zippered suitcase on wheels. I took a picture when I got it all in. I always enjoy the flick of the suitcase handle maneuvering up from its retracted position: we are ready for launch, people.
There is no neck pillow gulping up extra space from this missile. There is only my AS Roma football cap clipped to the handle, if I’m not already wearing it. I move swiftly through airport corridors. I am seamless. It is an amazing feeling to know exactly what I will need and how it will fit into the compartment on the plane, the train, the bus, the car, the taxi, the closet in the room where I will arrive…
Imagine my embarrassment to see how bulky I actually am.
Normally I confront that around the time one friend or another finds me at the airport, apartment or hotel to do me the favor of offering me a ride to my next destination. I watch them dead lift the luggage into the trunk, red in the face, veins throbbing like doped up Olympians.
I have come to earth to honor the image of my ancestors in these moments. I see them, my plate-eyed and ragged eastern European forebears dragging a chest with the contents of home, immense beyond the capacity of even a mule to carry.
It’s the third suitcase, really, the red one. Scarlet suicide. I’ve left that one out of the story so far. In it, I always pack more clothes than I can wear. I always account for climate swings that are never that severe. A sweater here (when it is seventy degrees), a pair of shorts there (when it is winter in Palermo). I have audio equipment, cords, a camera, chargers of all sorts. My Timberland boots. It adds up to a slug of material objects that suggests no less than a permanent move.
That makes sense this time around.
It’s not a few weeks or months that I’m away this time, but forever. Not here in Italy––not yet. I don’t have the documentation to make the move to this country happen yet, although we’re working on that. But after almost eight years in my Brooklyn apartment I moved out of it to pursue the work here on the ground with complete dedication, the logistics of which have kept me away until now.
A few of you readers will remember two years ago when I came back to New York City after an extended visit to Lampedusa to an apartment I didn’t recognize. All of the stuff I had put into a space to make it home looked foreign and not my own.
I started to purge. I took stock of everything I had, holding it and wondering what it meant to me, for some of it, how could it have ever meant anything, I wondered? It was a Marie Kondo in bewildered confrontation, less about finding joy, more about being honest about what I needed. I must have chucked out about half the volume of clutter in my apartment, maybe more. I kept one thick book I no longer read, a literary anthology from college the size of a bible. It still served as a practical plant stand atop a file cabinet next to my bedroom window. The rest was sealed into boxes that waited for donation pickup; a life-size Tetris wall of corrugated boxes, its contents the anchor of someone else’s existence at home on down the line.
It felt like losing weight. It was a physical release in my body, getting rid of these things. And it enabled me to get to the few suitcases I’m down to now. So there was a working up to this moment, where although all in tow with me now is still heavy, it has been neatly reduced.
Over a year ago my landlord approached me with a figure to move out of my coveted rent-stabilized apartment, located in a now trendy neighborhood in Brooklyn. When I moved in the area was so bad I think I was lucky not to be robbed. I made friends with whatever neighbors would speak to me, which weren’t many at the time. Those that did, looked out for me when others on the block didn’t want me there. But the rent was cheap. And after eight years, I became a part of the family––they took me in––and that felt unthinkably secure. By now, people would shout “I love you!” down the block to me.
This was my home.
All summer and fall my landlord and I were in drawn-out negotiations about money. How much was it going to take to get me to go? So many times he said some lowly figure was a “final offer,” wherein I learned there is no such thing as a final offer if you are dogged and not yet satisfied. It was New Year’s Eve when we landed on a number verbally. That’s how I rang in the new year. I was going to use this money as my ticket to continuing MotM while I develop a sustainable business model for it in 2019.
I was 10 days away from the movers showing up at my door though when I still hadn’t signed the paperwork. Errors and typos, and further points to be negotiated still kept emerging. From the start of the new year, the only thing that could be sure was that nothing was sure. It was full steam packing up my apartment anyway, selling belongings to friends and neighbors, and funneling the really good hair conditioner I love into more tiny sized bottles for my suitcase. I’ve since learned the weight of three tiny bottles is about the weight of one regular bottle, which is to say, heavy.
30 January 2019, I moved the belongings I kept––a couch, the bed, more clothes and some loved books––into a storage unit.
I looked out at the echo of my empty apartment that used to be insulated with all of the things that made up me. The sunlight through the windows without curtains shone bright on the polished wood floors. The room was empty and I had to remind myself that that was not me. I existed nonetheless in this melancholia. I’d erupt in tears at the sight of the hangers in an empty closet. I put the belonging I could not give away to friends in a pile in the lobby, on the floor. That tripped my vision. That didn’t seem right. Why were all my things out here? They didn’t belong there, they belonged in my home. It felt like being exposed, like someone reading my diary out loud. These were all the things––kitchen utensils, a few linens, books, and old lamp––that I looked at with reverence because they served me. This felt like a gutting, like a renunciation. There’s a story in the family about my great-grandfather throwing his Polish identification papers overboard into the sea on his way to America. He wanted nothing to do with his past that had damaged him. The story goes that he was escaping an abusive father, but I was not escaping danger, I was voluntarily removing myself from a place of security. It was the expression of that scattered pile of things on the dirty tile floor that showed me. Neighbors I never met were already stopping off to browse and pick. Things I liked fell to the ground. I left them there. A glass lamp fell and shattered. I swept up the pieces, but left everything else behind. It wasn’t mine anymore and it had no trace of my story, my history with it––of how it had been useful to me at some point or another over the past decade. That was the strangest thing to see about the things I carried, that the meaning I projected on them ceased to exist the second I released them from my possession. A piece of me died with them, if not of my story my mythology.
I have a friend who is studied in Chinese medicine and reminded me that when things die it makes way for new growth. The leaves fall in autumn and the trees appear dead in winter, but that shedding has really only made way for something new to blossom in spring.
31 January 2019, I handed over the keys and closed the door behind me.
I was surprised at how little fanfare there was. This is what it looked like to depart from something the size of about the last decade of your life. It sounded like the door latch clicking into place, familiar. How many times have I closed that door behind me? I am in the south of Italy, in Napoli, at time of writing and I can hear that sound now.
I think it’s just the sound of being pushed off to the place where you will be from next, the sound of impending spring. There is space beyond the limit of the last four walls that surrounded me, that made up my home, I can see that now; and the ground keeps appearing. Which is a good thing, because I will be living out of these suitcases for the foreseeable future, and I’ll need that ground to take the weigh of everything on their wheels.
What you will take with you when you have to go, and where you will put it as you keep moving along the path are incidental.
You always find yourself with yourself, and that is your home. You already have everything you need. Find that and find security in precarity instantly.
Thank you for minding the absence as I packed up my home and made this tremendous life move, a decision that has come directly out of the work on the ground with the migrants I follow. They have changed my life and opened the world to me. It is time to inhale that vast encounter fully and deeply, and document every detail of it.
Expect more updates to come swiftly. I’ve been in Italy for weeks already making new encounters and recording new stories––I can’t wait to share all of them with you.