I’ve spent the past two weeks in a time warp, shifting between past and present while slipping into the future.
These days are ones of reflection mixed with anticipation, and nostalgia flirting with discovery.
Why? Two things: I am packing for a move, and I bought the new Michael Jackson album.
I’m moving about 35 miles closer to my job in about three weeks, and so that has meant packing. Packing, Packing.
Lucky for me, I’ve had some primo tunes with go along with the move, thanks to Xscape, the latest posthumous album from Michael Jackson. More than your commonplace issuing of material stuck in a vault for decades, Xscape put together producers such as Timbaland and Stargate to re-engineer tracks Jackson recorded but never put on an album.
Everything is reconstituted, contemporized, repackaged for hopes of being reinvigorated.
And Xscape succeeds, turning Jackson’s very lively vocals and giving them that current sheen of disco-electro-funk-dance that put Pharrell Williams and Justin Timberlake atop the charts but Jackson perfected decades ago.
Much like Xscape
raises the ghost of Michael Jackson by bringing his past into our present, moving out of my current place has had the feeling of revamp and renewal. Mostly by going through so much junk to get back to what matters.
And for a nerd, that can be a lot of junk.
Almost no one enjoys moving. But I think of how non-nerds’ accumulations of stuff pales in comparison. It’s one thing to move a house of stuff, but a house filled with multiple collections, mementos and souvenirs across several fandoms … forget it.
Wasn’t it enough that I had all my geek stuff, and then I added a whole lot more nerd stuff when my now-wife and I moved in together five years ago. And as we’ve moved into peak coming-into-adulthood years, including a wedding, all the household stuff exploded alongside the steampunk blimp, stuffed animals, nutcrackers, Batman action figures and pin-up art.
So the past few months have been about cleaning house and packing up a life. The action figures went into boxes first, after lovingly rinsing dust off them. Green Arrow against Big Barda, Arkillo entwined with Optimus Prime, RoboCop meshed with Darth Vader, Treebeard pressed against Doctor Who – all their points of articulation askew.
Then came the movies and the music collections, but that was easy and didn’t take much effort.
All of these collections are dwarfed by the books. All. The. Books.
Lots to unpack. Lots to repack. And lots newly acquired to pack.
Before putting all the books away, I went through everything in my personal library, knowing that a good bunch of them would not survive this upcoming trip.
On one hand, it’s easy to give up the books. They’re filled with knowledge, so whomever receives them will benefit from them. They’re not necessary to my survival, so if they have to go, then go they will.
But on the other hand, they’ve been necessary to the creation of my self, to the survival of my self as a knowledgeable person. At least half the books come from my literature-degree college days, novels and poetry spanning three centuries and fundamental to my education – teaching me to know good language. The dozens of drama books and scripts training me in postmodernism, psychological terror and cabaret black humor.
And alongside Nineteen Eighty-Four
, Tom Jones
, Shakespeare, Tolkien, White Noise
and To The Lighthouse
, sat the feminist critical essays of Audre Lorde and bell hooks, and other books picking apart pop culture’s messages on gender, race, money and power.
Next to them, the tomes of William Julius Wilson and others studying and explaining the ghettos of urban postwar America such as I first grew up in, and first giving me the language with which to articulate the plain facts of segregation and racism.
These books became the toybox of my mind, my world views. They were the belt upon which my mind was sharpened into a razor.
And now a lot of those books have to go.
It’s been hard.
But at the same time, it’s been a chance to renew myself, to rediscover material I’d forgotten or placed out of sight long ago. I now have a chance to to remix them in a world where Obama is president and video games are way beyond 64-bit graphics, Chappelle’s Show is 10 years old (and still dearly missed), Blade Runner is getting a prequel, Battlestar Galactica is beloved, Al Sharpton is thin, Star Trek got cool, a Watchmen movie got made, and Green Arrow has a decent TV show.
And where Michael Jackson – otherworldly hip in my ’80s childhood, disgraced in my ’90s teenage days and reviled in my ’00s twenties – is hip again. Remixed. Rebuilt. A dancing hologram at an awards show, stripped of Jackson’s human complexity yet elevated to a super-saiyan spirit.
But the music is still classic Jackson, still singing the giddiest, most amped-up pop music springing from his confessional collection of duplicitous jezebels, faceless persecutors, ice-cold gangsters, omnivorous abusers and humongous outpourings of a love that will deliver us from evil. If only so that we can dance one more time.
With my latest move, amid college towns and closer to a major city, the packing feels the same way. There’s a lot of my past to throw away as much as pack away, and much to let back out into the light. Time for some new things that are kin to the old things – friends, culture, activity, location, community – while strengthening my life now with my wife beside me, both of us walking in the same direction.
Repurposed, rebuilt, remade.
And ready to dance.