Online Edition 01.2007

Galen's Stuff | Jess Dewes
Photo Essay

Streetside Pick Up | Elie Gardner
Photo Elie Gardner

The Gift and Burden of Possession | Ari Holtz

Franklin Visits eBay! | Franklin Jennings

The Book| Luby Kelley
Illustration Matt Kindt

Killed By Their Own Art | Byron Kerman

Liberation | Julie Newberry

Bless This Mess | Claire Nowak-Boyd
Photo Michael R. Allen

Best of Mississippi Nights | Jim Utz

Print Edition   


Andrea Avery, Diana Benanti, Thomas Crone, M. Davis, Heidi Dean,  Amanda E. Doyle, Joe Esser,  Chris King, François Luong, L.A. Ramsey, Stefene Russell, Steven Schreiner, and Erik Smetana.


Andrea Avery, Thomas Crone, Bill Cable, Jess Dewes, Katy Fischer, Jane Godfrey, Dave Gray.

The Burden and Gift of Possession | by Ari Holtz

Any frequent traveler (or dedicated user of tired clichés) will tell you that traveling light is the only way to fly. A related aphorism for those in academic pursuits might be that living light is the only way to move. Possessing large amounts of material goods becomes a truly overwhelming burden for the modern day academic nomad. Consequently, one must be quite discriminating in deciding what to acquire and what to hold on to.

I, as just such a nomad, have moved to a new city four times within the last 11 years. I traversed from the northeast to Louisiana for college, Louisiana to D.C. for graduate school, D.C. to Nashville for my post-doctoral work, and Nashville to St. Louis for (gasp) an actual job. Subsumed within these moves were a host of intra-city moves – naïve cross town jumps in the Quixotic quest for the mystical apartment that is both located within walking distance of a coffee shop, bar, sushi bar, post office, dry cleaners, and video rental outlet and falls within the meager means of one who lives off of teaching stipends and the goodwill of Sallie Mae.

Living such a lifestyle has forced me to make some difficult choices. Only a complete lack of foresight and disregard for practical concerns could have led to a decision to accumulate piles and piles of books, CDs, DVDs, clothes, shoes, and assorted tchochkes. After all, every 12 –24 months or so, all of my worldly possessions were deposited in boxes, the boxes then deposited in a frighteningly decrepit U-Haul truck, that truck driven some distance between three and 800 miles, those boxes then moved off of the truck, down hallways and up stairs, and then emptied of their various and sundry contents. All of this would be accomplished with, variably, the assistance of my father and his unfortunately limited range of motion (back injury) or friends and colleagues convinced to help by the stick of my threat not to help them upon their inevitable moves and the carrot of a bar tab paid in full by me at the end of the evening.

So, choices. What got the cut first? Books. Yes, books. Understandably, this seems an odd choice for an academic. Aren’t books the lifeblood of one whose career pursuits involve study and learning and whose leisure time includes frequent consults with Kurt Vonnegut, Milan Kundera, and Don DeLillo? Clearly, yes. But books are so heavy, require so many boxes, and aggravate paternal backs and collegial moods so intensely. It’s like they have a grudge against those who love them most. Alas, the excellent library systems of Washington and Nashville (really) allowed me endless access to books, and my multiple university affiliations provided more than enough professional literature without having to drop $125 for the annotated works of Freud or $250 for a subscription to a quarterly ($50 per issue?!?) journal.

DVDs were cut out along the same line of thought as were books, with rental stores and Netflix standing in for libraries. Being a male and a student (have you seen how graduate teaching assistants dress? Meager would be a generous descriptor) for much of the past 11 years, profuse collections of clothing were never an issue; the only exception being my treasured assortment of Pumas. Fortuitously, canvas soccer shoes are lightweight and quite resilient after being stuffed into over-packed duffels, so I could indulge my fetish for trendy casual athletic footwear (for fellow devotees, the New York City and Chicago Puma stores are not to be missed). Apartment décor has always been minimal – a paucity of money translates into very few antique vases; my natural disposition precludes a prolific doily collection.

So, what ended up the winner of this Sophie’s choice of consumer goods?

CDs. Music on discs.

I have many CDs. Hundreds. Thousands. Well, ok, not thousands. But a lot. My pace of acquiring CDs has slowed over recent years with the advent of MP3s as the dominant music format; however, I still invest an ill-advised portion of my income in my music library. While CDs don’t pack the intimidating weight and size of books, in my most recent move, boxes containing CDs made up a highly disproportionate percentage of my load. I understand that this is totally impractical. Completely foolish. Very upsetting to those who I bribe to help me transport my life across the country.

Why bother, you ask? Why not transfer my music to electronic format and either store the discs at my parents’ home or sell them for a bonus cash infusion? Why continue to accumulate more music in a dying medium that collectively weighs many pounds and fills many cubic feet of volume?

The answer to these questions is not profound or original. It is sentimental and predictable. This makes my motivations no less real or true. I collect the CDs and lack any ability to dispose of them, even those purchased 17 years ago that I haven’t listened to in 14 years, because they serve as the best chronicle of my life that I possess. I don’t journal, and I don’t take a preponderance of photos. When I let my eyes run over the jewel cases on my CD racks, however, I am briefly brought back to the time and place where I bought each respective album. I am reconnected with the friends with whom I enjoyed specific songs. I am placed back in different eras of my life, reminded of the significant events, people, and places. Constellations of memory open up upon each perusal or listen linking various artists, albums, and entire genres with relationships, locations, and emotions. Just as I pick different albums each day to listen to for when I feel exhilarated, relaxed, saddened, or excited, my CD collection – the jewel boxes, cover art, and melodies – allow me to momentarily exist in 1993, 1996, or 2001.

I can’t rid myself of my CDs for the same reason that I would never want to rid myself of my memories. They are symbols and defining elements of a life lived. 


Ari Holtz is a writer and practicing psychologist. He lives in the city of St. Louis.