A beautiful room

    When I sit in my old bedroom, I'm surrounded by my roads not taken. I'm around all the passions I once had and could have pursued, had they enchanted me for a little longer. I'm in the thick of remembrance and sentiment. Everything in my childhood bedroom seems to have been a moment spoken too hastily.

    There are old clothes I had forgotten to pack and books I was in the middle of reading when I left, and now they're strewn across my desk and table and chair. If I inspect the mess carefully, I can even find artifacts from college I brought home and neglected to take back. It's become something of a time machine.

    To my left are books about the theory and practice of journalism – an enthusiasm so strong that it determined the college I now attend. To my right are books about the theory and practice of science, which inspired an online magazine I ran with a friend about the public understanding of science, now defunct. Today, Pablo Neruda's Canto General sits on top of The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell. My books of poetry and literature collect dust less than my books of popular science and philosophy. All of this makes me realize how much I've changed since leaving this beautiful room.

    When I first left, there was a part of me that wanted to return to something. I wanted to see the paintings I had commissioned from my friend that now hang proudly on my walls. I wanted to be surrounded by the books that shaped and defined who I am. I didn't want my home to change while I was away, but if it did, I wanted to change with it. This isn't, at last, how it all works.

    Now when I visit, I sleep downstairs on the couch. I don't bring a large suitcase and unpack. I put my week's visit in a backpack and wash a few sets of clothes frequently. I avoid sleeping in my own bed by virtue of the weak excuse that it's too messy and isn't worth cleaning; there's stuff all over it, collected remnants from hurried packing before flights. Trust me, I say, the couch is more comfortable anyway.

    What it comes down to is a feeling of alienation. I've changed – my room hasn't. We're incompatible now. And what I've come to realize is that there are only certain things I wish to take with me, before my room swallows everything in it alive. I may not need most of my books about evolution, but I'd like to carry my first copy of Darwin's On the Origin of Species to remind myself of its historical vision of life. I want to continue to be charmed by the beauty and complexity of the natural world, even if I don't dedicate my life to pursuing its secrets.

    There are papers and essays I'd like to take with me, even though they come from fields I no longer follow. I'd like to remember how their study brought meaning to my life and my work. I'd like to keep the notes and letters given to me by my friends and teachers, even though we may not speak to each other as often as before. Because the fact of the matter is that I no longer have the pleasure of delay. I have to decide what to take with me and what to leave behind.

    My brother started taking some of my books from my room. Yesterday he showed me a small stack he had set aside so as to remind himself which of the books belong to him and which belong to me. Occasionally I catch him wearing an article of clothing I left in my closet. I'm glad he's making use of what I left, but it's time that I make use of it too. It's time to take down the paintings and ship them away. It's time to pack a small box of what's left, and leave the rest to those more likely to use what I left behind.

    It's time to clear the room that served me well for eighteen years.


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