a kaddish for old friends I’m ready to let go of. I think.

This isn’t my fault.  Usually I take the blame for everything. Anything. But this one just isn’t my fault. I think.

It’s clean up time, quick before the summer disappears.  And I’m trying to prepare my precious daughter’s room for her ten-second visit home. Trying to make it special. Trying to make it serviceable beyond her ten-second visits. Gotta face the fact that home is still home to her, but she just doesn’t live here anymore.

So. I bought a nice Karastan for her room. Got it on eBay for an excellent price. But to get the rug and its pad into her room, everything has to come out. And there’s a lot crammed in there.

First of all, all of our art books are in there. All. That’s three bookcases right there. And all of our paints are in there. Another tall bookcase. And all of our videotapes. A whole cabinet’s worth. Including videos of the kids when they were little. And precious daughter’s graded papers from college. And piles of unfinished paintings, both hers and mine. Mostly hers.  Stuffed bears and kitties. CDs.

And like an idiot, I started going through everything, piece by piece.  Which is a good way to not finish.

Of course, I found treasures. Including my drawings for house restoration projects going all the way back to 1980. Her room was always the project room. Always the place to create.

I remember when she was about ten and she told me that tree trunks were brown. She was coloring, and she didn’t have a brown crayon. So she couldn’t draw the tree she wanted to. Well, it pissed me off, her attitude about brown.  So. We moved stuff off her big wall and decided to test it out. Could you make a tree and not use brown at all.  Yah. We work big.  Isn’t that what walls are for? We used every color but brown to make our tree trunk. We worked on our tree for weeks. A student of mine came round and helped paint leaves one by one — without using much green.  The tree was enormous and comforting. The trunk was breathtaking.  From a distance, you might think it was brown, but it was everything but. And precious daughter slept under it for years. Until suddenly she was sixteen or so and needed something different.

“It’s only paint,” I told her.  We could do anything we wanted. And then—we could change it.  The paint metaphor became a big thing at our house.  And all those art books and notebooks and sketchbooks were part of our adventure.

I saved everything.


All I wanted to do today was remove the books and notebooks and sketchbooks from the heavy oak bookcase so that it wouldn’t be too heavy to move in order to get the rug onto the floor.

I wasn’t planning on throwing anything out.

I have a friend who is working on having nothing.  And doing a fair job at it, actually. Except exercise equipment. And candles. And an altar. And electronics.  Working on, is what I said.  Not there yet, in other words. And well, I don’t aspire to that at all.  After all, I was raised in a family of collectors.  I can hear my father’s voice telling me to collect. And then telling me to specialize.

The books in this room are not my specialty. But they are my collection. Our collection, I should say. My precious daughter uses (used) them all. Studied them. Drew and painted from them, just as I had before her. She’s got dibs on all this stuff for after I drop dead.

But I almost tossed a lot of it out today.

Not that I’d throw books in the trash, godno. Of course they’d get donated. Of course.

But I did throw out three shopping bags full of catalogs and printed downloads and paint chips and stuff like that.

I kept thinking: These days, all this is available online. And updated, too.

Do I really need Beronios’ catalogs of moulding types? Victoriana’s anaglypta samples? (Victoriana’s been closed down for at least a decade). House design, kitchen design, bathroom design books and workbooks. Sunset how-to-build-a-fill-in-the-blank books. Paint swatches from Color Perfect, which also went belly up about a decade ago. Anderson Windows, Kolbe Windows, Wooden Windows, etc etc etc.

I threw a bit of it out.  Managed to fill about three or four shopping  bags full.

It was torture.

Even the art books: Surely all this is available online, right?

There wasn’t a single one I was willing to part with, but I fear the time may come.

It’s starting to feel obscene having so many books. Or purchasing any more of them. And yet, here am I waiting semi-patiently for August 9th when I can go purchase Lev Grossman’s latest, which is due out then.  How could I not buy it?

But the days of buying books like this, with great anticipation, will soon be over.  And it’s possible that the word ‘book’ won’t even refer to the musty smelling thick bound paper things I treasure so. Instead ‘books’ will be words (and/or images) upon a screen. And that’s it.

And sure, I’ll be happy for the trees, who are sick of giving up their lives for me to have a good satisfying read in bed. And today I was almost ready to start letting them go. Except the ones, of course, that my daughter wants to keep. And the ones that are my specialty. And the ones that will never appear upon a screen.

There’s a difference between not buying more books (or much more, anyway) and emptying the house.

What does a house look like without them? Cold and barren? Unschooled and unread? Can a house be a home without them?

Or does it feel great. And Japanesey. And free?

Today I was almost ready to find out.

Almost. Almost I said.

But at this point, the books stay. And the paint stays. And the notebooks. And the sketchbooks. And the stuffed bears and kitties. And the CDs.

So. How ’bout that cabinet filled with VHS videotapes? Not the ones of the kids, of course. But the others. Is there any reason (beyond sheer sentimentality) not to let this stuff go?

Think I’ll just put everything back after the rug’s on the floor—and let my precious daughter figure it out. We’ll have, after all, a whole ten seconds until her visit’s over.


By mira

Mira Z. Amiras is Professor of Comparative Religious Studies and founder of the Middle East Studies Program at San Jose State University. She is past-president of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness, and has served on the Executive Council of the American Anthropological Association. She is co-founder, with Ovid Jacob, of Beit Malkhut, a study group in Jewish sacred text. She's most attached to the creatures of her body and her household — first and foremost, her kids, of course: Michael and Rayna — and then the other folks large and small of various species, including Roshi and Vlad, a whole lot of hummingbirds, the old parrot who lives next door, and a beautiful garden that does what it will.

3 replies on “a kaddish for old friends I’m ready to let go of. I think.”

So, this is kind of a non-Kaddish for the non-departure of some books that might be obsolete someday? Subjunctive grieving—what a concept! K2PH goes even more meta!

Subjunctive grieving indeed. I walk into the future with ambivalence over the possibility of letting go—when it’s so unnecessary. Or maybe it is. The ambivalence is not subjunctive, however. The ambivalence is both very present and very real.

Maybe you could play my books a subjunctive kaddish? What would that sound like?

[…] a kaddish in two-part harmony Skip to content Homeabout beit malkhutstudy group topics and scheduleselected articles by miraselected articles by ovidselected articles by toddmira’s blogerin’s blogabout the kaddish projectyizkor—kaddish in two-part harmony remembrancesyizkor—minyan remembrancesabout the musicto listencontact usseymour fromer z“ljoe hoffman, jerusalemmira z. amiras — san franciscofred rosenbaum, brooklyn and berkeleyharold lindenthal — nyc and hartfordtzaddik storiespodcastrecommended readingsjewish mysticism, magic, and folkloredeath and dying ← a kaddish for old friends I’m ready to let go of. I think. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.