🌻 object permanence
moving, consumerism, worlds on fire
I hate moving. Not that I hate travel, or that I hate leaving, or that I hate having to call a new place home. In fact, I love traversing unfamiliar streets and buildings, listening to the potential bulging behind concrete walls. I love teasing out the vibe of a place through every coffee shop and grocery run. As Paul Graham puts it, "A city speaks to you mostly by accident—in things you see through windows, in conversations you overhear. It's not something you have to seek out, but something you can't turn off."
But what I hate is the logistics of moving. I hate apartment-searching and booking flights. I hate tearing down the few decorations that made a space feel mine. I'm weak, too, so I hate lugging heavy things to and from the storage unit. And most of all, I hate the tedium of a packing list, the drudgery of folding life into Kondo-esque rectangles, and the shock of self-awareness: Oh god, I have way too much stuff. And it's this final moment of reflexivity that I despise the most.
Here's the thing: it doesn't feel good to sit amid a roomful of objects. Objects present me with the material, tangible, undeniable evidence of my own consumerism. And when I look at it all, the weight of existence becomes painfully real: each course I've taken creates a stack of Moleskines and double-spaced papers, every relationship a drawer of cards and hollow trinkets, every autumn a grey sweater that looks nearly-but-not-quite like the last. Having all this stuff feels equal parts nostalgic and shameful: the books still unread, the friends drifted apart, the craft projects begun and abandoned halfway. You're a quitter, wasteful, a thoughtless friend.
I move on a quarterly basis now, and each time, I find myself spending at least a couple hours dwelling in my refuse, mired in anxiety. I try on old clothes: Do these look too small? I scrutinize old assignments: Did I deserve that A? Scattered around me lie boxes of contacts from when I was less nearsighted, a tennis racket I last picked up in 11th grade, photographs of friends whose laughs I haven't heard in years and who I'm too afraid to call. Sometimes, I try to convince myself to repurpose the old—maybe, if I try hard enough, I could force a couple more uses from this bounty of second-favorites and almost-fits. But it's futile. Objects can't revive a present that has passed.
In the end, I go back to the basics. My laptop, my Kindle, my 0.38 mm Pilot G2s. The Patagonia Nano Puff I got from a stint in consulting, some ultra-fine liquid eyeliners in Blackest Black, and a brown leather bag that's sprawled across my Instagram feed because it's the only purse I own. When reduced to a carry-on, my life looks like a caricature of a Bay Area yuppie—bland, corporate, cultureless. To toss in any personality risks sending my bags over the weight limit. "Homogeneity was a small price to pay for the erasure of decision fatigue," writes Anna Wiener in Uncanny Valley. "It liberated our minds to pursue other endeavors, like work."
But the lifestyle can be sexy, even if the stuff isn't. Plenty of my friends are "digital nomads" now—why not be when you can live in the cloud? My e-books, message history, the TikTok algorithm that knows me better than my parents do. Digital personality doesn't need to be packed, unpacked, or reckoned with. It evolves imperceptibly, casting off last week's dramas and meme formats in favor of a newer, better you. Messages vanish; time turns into timelines; video games promise countless worlds to mine and conquer. This is an alternate universe of ephemeral, endless choice. Seamless and frictionless and delightful to use. Consumers, not citizens. Users, not bodies. Not less.
It's no wonder that we're retreating from physical worlds that feel ever more foreign, squeamish at streets filled with people confined to their skin. Online, we can hit unfriend; online, we can open new accounts; online, we can quit a game when we're losing it. Meanwhile, the logistics that I so abhor disappear into the back-end. In an apartment across the world or two blocks away, an unknown developer has automated the process of moving: folding my history into compact zeros and ones, then sorting and storing each bit in a database too vast to comprehend. The servers chug on, their heat too far to be felt.
But our bodily attachments are here for a reason. The smoke blows over. The flames spread north. As I peek out the front door and gaze into the hazy ochre sky, my eyes water and my lungs catch. The promise of progress, with its green-roofed skyscrapers and self-driving cars, fades into monochrome. This world does not feel beautiful, or limitless, or free. I close the door. I open my laptop, and the Windows lock screen shows me a photo of Rocky Mountain elk crossing an alpine stream. The foliage gleams off the glass, its saturation jacked up to the greenest green; the elk—so majestic!—oblivious to their own cooption. Yet when I glance out the window, the trees are still brown. Like the knickknacks collapsing across my bedroom floor, these mountains of consumer residue from years past, our world is begging to be looked at.
This is who you are. Will you take me with you?
🌱 some quick life updates
I moved into a new place in the Green Lake neighborhood of Seattle, where I’ll be living with friends (and one lionhead rabbit). Our house goal is to produce a poetry chapbook before we all leave in December. I don’t know how to write poetry, but we’re going to make it happen.
I’m taking a Flex Quarter at Stanford, which means getting one tuition-free class. I chose Creative Nonfiction, and am broadly trying to write more regularly and rigorously this quarter. This could be good or bad for you based on how much spam you like in your inbox.