Make room for real change

A flash of white. A moment of comedy to counter all the tragedy. A bird lands on the electric wires outside my office window, face mask dangled from its beak. I’m imagining some particularly plush nests for the coming year.

I look around me in this former closet. Floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, boxes of jumbled papers, knickknacks saved for their inspirational attributes. Messes of old photos, postcards, maps, and ephemera. It’s all a memory palace, a concentrated version of my home’s aesthetic.

I can easily close my eyes and conjure all I’ve left behind to get to where I am now, which allows me to imagine all that I’ll yet have to cull.


You need to remove things to retain freshness, to make room for the new. I lived for a decade in an 18-room farmhouse cluttered by the many items that helped fill it. I held a sale to make room, and allowed everything to go on the block. That opened me up for fresh horizons.

I spent a number of years growing up in the former Confederacy. I know the many monuments that have to go, and the pain many will feel letting them go. We learned about the War of Northern Aggression in junior high. It’s only more recently that we’ve taken pause at the greater pains those monuments maintained.

The removal of things, treasured or just there for years, results in stages of grief. There’s remorse, anger, shame, anxiety, insouciance … the stages jumble. I’ve gone through them, separating who I am from who my parents were. Separating from schooling. Separating from learned attitudes.

Eventually pain becomes a memory we hold in our hand, or carry away to become part of a new nest. Sometimes it’s so great it paralyzes. We aim for transformation but can often summon little more than an image, a simile, a simulation of real change.

We require a constant process of honest self-appraisal, clearing away what we can, but also keeping what we aren’t yet ready to shed until that shedding’s forced on us.

Or a bird flies our detritus away.

Read more installments of Village Voices by Paul Smart.