900 Things week 2: What Makes It A Library?

Week 2: November 11, 2012

My first round of eBay is closing. I think only about 1/3rd of the items will sell. Still, start somewhere. Mostly it was dvds in the first round. I wanted to get the hang of eBay again before diving in with other items.

A week into the 900 Things project and I have held the line on no new things. Almost faltered the other night. I was at a scotch tasting / fundraiser and they were selling fancy scotch glasses as part of it. That moment of wanting to show support almost brought a completely useless item into my home! I have never even bought scotch! My support went into the raffle tickets instead (raffle prizes were bottles of wine, no conflict with my rules).


I’m also deciding what of the 900 Things will be donated. Certainly a box will go to Comics for Heroes. And I know a Lego artist who wouldn’t say no to the bin of loose pieces I haven’t quite decided on.

Having started the purge, I’m not sure where to stop. Books was the task this week. I’ve always had a library of some sort. When I was a kid it was a few boxes on their sides. Now it’s proper bookshelves, but full of books that I may never read again. Seriously, I have Bill Clinton’s autobiography. A good read, but at 957 pages it hasn’t exactly been at the top of my to-read pile at any time in the nearly 10 years since I read it the first time.

Add to this that I’ve mostly switched to digital books over the past two years. I ride the bus to work so an e-reader is much more convenient than a hardcover. I think I’ve read 3 hard copy books this year, so why to I own a couple of hundred? At this rate, I’ll have enough to do me for several generations after my normal life expectancy.

At a guess, I’d say I’ll cut at least half if not more. The rest are proper collections. I can’t see getting rid of my Hunter Thompson, Bob Woodward, Kerouac or Spalding Gray collections. But the rest? Can you honestly call it a library when you don’t loan anything?

Where to stop cutting? Am I going to regret in a year that I got rid of my Red Dwarf novels? Or my not-worn-out-from-reading-at-all copy of Stuff White People Like? Perhaps. But I’m not exactly parting with one of a kind items.

My shelves are already opening up. It looks like I’m moving in or out in my man cave right now. Stacks of books, empty boxes awaiting shipping to far away lands. The sudden switch from ‘treasured item’ to ‘what is the resale value?’ is as brief as the trip from one side of the room to the other.

1 Thing Featured:

One of the first items I’ve put up for auction is a vhs of Spalding Gray’s Terrors of Pleasure. It’s going out because a) I don’t own a vhs player and b) others are just as big or bigger fans and they would love to get their hands on this super rare item. To tell you why this item was in my collection, here is a post I wrote on the fifth anniversary of Spalding’s death.


“You have to watch this. It’s brilliant. It’s this guy who sits at a table and talks non-stop for 85 minutes.”

I’ve tried this pitch a few times over the decade and a half since those words were said to me, and it’s a rare person who takes the challenge. It was Craig Strukoff who said it to me though, and when Craig told me to watch something, I usually did.

Spalding Gray. He sat at a desk. And talked non-stop for 85 minutes. Exactly as advertised.

Swimming to Cambodia.

It was autobiographical monologue. Personal storytelling. It was like nothing anyone had tried. Spalding sat at a microphone with one or two props and a scribbler and told a narrative of his life. He would digress, he would interupt himself, he would find a thread that he left behind 20 minutes before. He was mesmerizing.

Swimming to Cambodia is Spalding’s story of his time in Thailand while filming a small part in the Killing Fields. It has sex, drugs, war, politics, and a neurotic storyteller who won’t let you stay in one place long enough to get tired of any of it.

You might recognize Spalding. He had a recurring role on The Nanny as a psychiatrist. Spalding was terrified of psychiatrists and doctors, but his physical type meant he played them often.

Spalding drew me to my favourite movie of all time, one you have likely never heard of – Glory Daze. It’s a tiny movie with Ben Affleck, Alyssa Milano, Sam Rockwell and a few other recognizable faces. Spalding played the nameless “Jack’s Dad” who gives Jack the great advice “You’ve had four years to do what you want, it’s time to give up” and then drives away yelling “send us a postcard from skid row!”

Spalding laid bare his whole life for his art and his audience. He told in sometimes painful, often funny, never boring, solo work about the ups and downs of his life and the pure experience of it all. “Sex and Death to the Age 14,” “Monster in a Box” and the final tragically unfinished “Life Interrupted.”

I thought of Spalding when I visited New York. The city that Spalding called “a small island off the coast of America.” I can’t help but think of the city the way he spoke of it. The city he sought to escape so many times, but that he always returned to. The city where he first experimented with monologue. Where he played the Stage Manager in Our Town on Broadway. Where he finally found some piece with his second wife and his children.

The city where he got on a ferry alone, signed an autograph for a fan, and then stepped off the side into the cold water. The water that separates Manhattan from America. The water they would find him in.
Five years ago today.


2 thoughts on “900 Things week 2: What Makes It A Library?

  1. As a guy who has purged more than his share of geek treasures down through the years, I have a couple suggestions and reactions for you.

    1) Bravo! Curating a collection is good. It helps you better understand what you like (and why) and has the collateral benefit of getting your unwanted stuff into the hands of people who might better enjoy it. Sometimes you’ll even make cash doing it, which you can spend (guilt-free) on things that interest you today. Some of my most satisfying transactions are virtual “trades” made with mad money earned from selling my old stuff.

    2) Be careful! Even an old hand like myself sometimes cuts too deep and hits bone when purging possessions. Getting rid of things can develop a sort of momentum that may lead you to let go of something you would otherwise keep (and will later regret losing). Just as I recommend a cooling-off period for purchases, it is a good idea to have a cooling-off period for sales and trades, too. Don’t be afraid to leave those “to be sold” boxes alone for a week before actually putting them up for sale, and don’t be ashamed to rescue a book or two from those same boxes when you give them a second look. You can always elect to sell something again at a later date — it’s deciding you want to “un-sell” it that can prove expensive or impossible.


    • Thanks for the advice! Pretty much what I’ve been doing. Piling it all in a ‘get rid of’ stack and then I’ll work from there.
      Certainly putting thought to how these items might give more joy to others. Time to let these Things move on as well.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.