Friday, January 19, 2007

Change is scary (even when it’s just furniture)!

My apartment, myself

My apartment is an enduring metaphor for my mental state. It’s large (for New York), has good bones, is darker than I wish, is nonetheless the subject of much envy, and is filled with stuff, stuff, stuff, stuff, stuff. After 12 years, so much stuff. Oy.

This is one aspect of adulthood that I had no inkling of as a child. That as you grow older, you accumulate, and not in a good way.

One way childhood was easier than adulthood

I was not burdened much by expectations as a kid. I was excited about the future because, well, there seemed to be lots of exciting things out there. I wasn’t sure how far away from me they were, but I knew that they would be cool.

Perhaps as a result, I was quite the doer. I got a paper route, went to debate camp, played the piano, listened to language tapes in my sleep, tried out for the school musical, got a job at a donut shop. Basically, I set goals and went after them, without quite thinking of things in those terms. Of course, these energies also yielded some semi-disastrous results—water polo comes to mind—but once I was out of them I barely gave them a second thought.

So imagine my surprise that as an adult I find myself spending so much time reflecting, looking back, comparing, and in general evaluating my present and future in terms of my past. We’re talking baggage here. Am I off the mark in saying that one of the biggest challenges of adulthood is being fresh?

It’s hard to ignore what we have experienced, or the emotions to which we’ve become habituated. Changing my life is like rearranging my apartment—I have some ideas but it’s so easy to get bogged down in the stuff.

My life as seen through bookshelves

A couple of years ago, I hired someone named Maxwell Gillingham Ryan, who runs , to come and do a consultation. It was super-interesting (this is where I got the phrase “good bones”). Among other things, he noted that my apartment’s waistline was inconsistent mostly due to two towering bookcases in our living room. These bookcases I originally purchased from Gothic Custom Craft, a sort of cheapo furniture chain here in New York. I painstakingly assembled them myself. Shortly thereafter I decided I hated them. One of them is pictured above. It looks innocent, but don't be fooled.

Two years later, I have finally taken up Mr. Gillingham-Ryan’s suggestion that we install a lower, wall-length bookshelf instead—one at proper room waistline level. Aiding in my effort is Mr. Luis Calvo, the brilliant handyman and furniture constructor who is the father of a student I helped with her college applications several years ago. It turns out that spending part of each morning at Starbucks in December 2001 helping Sulay with her 13 college applications was a fine investment on my part.

Feelings about furniture

I was prepared to be all excited but what I am experiencing is anxiety. Anxiety about whether it will look good, anxiety about how we are going to get rid of these behemoth bookshelves, anxiety about whether our dogs are feeling anxious about hammering sounds, anxiety about the fact that whenever you lift up a board in our 1928 building or punch a hole in the wall you realize that the entire building is basically filled with rubble

But basically, my anxiety comes from change itself. I’m taking a step to making my life different. But it’s kind of messy and I don’t have any certainty what it will be what I want. As a kid, I didn’t have an overstuffed albeit glamorous apartment, so it was easy to move forward. But now I do. So change is more complex. It requires me to get rid of my stuff, which is hard. And if I am so weirded out just by furniture and dusty books, no wonder bigger goals can be daunting to achieve. While one is undergoing a change process, it doesn’t always look or feel so good.

I’m moving forward, though. I’ll let you know how it comes out.