Today I went digging and mistakenly unearthed my past. My past loves and collectables, all in the form of books. It wasn’t my intention to excavate my literary past. In fact, it was all an innocent game of “I need to find that book.” The book in question is Anne Lamont’s creative writing classic "Bird by Bird." A book I brought in 1998 with hopes that it would help me break a creative gridlock I was experiencing as I worked on numerous essays for graduate school applications. The book was recommended to my by a friend, Aaron, a Californian intellectual, who I adored and worked with at the Guggenheim Museum. It is so ironic because I still have the book but I lost touch with Aaron after entering graduate school in Indiana.
So, after putting out the garbage for tomorrow’s collection, I went book diving in my mother’s basement. It was harder than I expected work. I had forgotten about the boxes because newer white boxes had supplanted them with Japanese characters printed all over them. The boxes from Japan had been placed on top of the older boxes and held fresher, more recent memories for me to comb through at my leisure.
Picking up boxes which hadn’t been moved in over 2 years was a little exhausting but worth the price. I had found lost treasures such as my small but priceless Toni Morrison collection, playwright Adrienne Kennedy’s “People Who Led to My Plays,” and a copy of Ntozake Shange’s “Sassafras, Cypress, & Indigo” which seemed to save my life one dark night in San Francisco during the late nineties.
There were books that represented previous aspirations like a copy of "Teach Yourself Hindi.” I can’t believe I own that book! The idea of teaching myself Hindi actually sounds pretty ridiculous now but in 2002 I was a convert. (I even took a Hindi class at CUNY). I uncovered college yearbooks (I have every year except my junior year which I spent in Italy). which reminded me of my glory days in the ivory tower at Sarah Lawrence. I found remnants of three semesters spent in journalism school in the Midwest when I picked up a large textbook on First Amendment Law.
Finding forgotten books was also like remembering pieces of me that have fallen away or died hard deaths. I have a collection of books on soul mates. This idea makes me smile and laugh now. I have nothing against the idea of soul mates but I’m so happy that I’m no longer looking for one. I also have a small collection of sassy, feminist, and sexy books by Seal Press. I won’t divulge the titles because family members may read this.
But the biggest surprise in my literary excavation was the discovering of 3 books, “Let’s Go Australia,” “Let's Go India & Nepal,” and “Let’s Go Southeast Asia. All of these books were dated 2001. Two copies of these out of date travel guides have covers ripped off of them, which tells me that I picked them up during a stint working at a bookstore, probably Barnes & Noble (I did enjoy their employee discount on books and in the café!).
I can understand me picking up travel guides that were on the verge of being dumped on the street. But I can’t fathom why I have a fully intact copy of Let’s Go Southeast Asia. Did I have any hopes or desires of going to Southeast Asia at that time in my life? I don’t remember so, I decided to rescue the three Let’s Go travel guides from the forgotten-land of my basement.
These three books represented my past and presented. In 2002, I desperately wanted to travel to India. Australia & Southeast Asia would have been places on my mythical long “Places I Want To See Before I Die” List but that is the past.
It is now the summer of 2006 and I have a little intimate knowledge of the places listed in each of the books. I know what dosas taste like and I know to avoid masala dosas because I can’t take inferno they form in my mouth. I learned this lesson in Pune, then in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. I know that Melbourne, Victoria, is a place that you definitely want to take the time to visit because it is a lovely European city in the place called OZ. And I know that winters in Eastern Australia feel like autumn on the East Coast of the U.S. I also know that if you want great beaches for cheap without stepping over a thousand other tourists, leave Thailand behind for the spectacular beaches of Malaysia or if you are very adventurous hit the beach in Cambodia.
After paging through the books, I’ve decided they can be trashed. I don’t need them anymore. I have seen some of those places described between the pages of each book. And honestly, I can’t believe it. Sometimes I can’t believe how far I’ve come.