25th Trillium Award

On moving (books)

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By rob mclennan

 If we rise above our love for beautiful things, we shall free ourselves from death and decay, from beauty?s transience and our acquisitive nature. We shall fear no footprint.

            Jennifer Moxley, There Are Things We Live Among: Essays on the Object World

There are reasons why I rarely move, only one of which is the size of my library. I suspect I have 10,000 books and some 6,000 comic books, on top of the 20 years of stock pertaining to above/ground press, and a near-decade?s worth of stock for Chaudiere Books. With 20 years of reviewing under my belt, I?ve been receiving books in the mail almost daily for quite some time.

To move means weeks of packing, and further weeks of unpacking, both of which interfere with my writing day. I deliberately lived in a terrible apartment in Ottawa?s Chinatown for more than a decade knowing that to move would upset weeks of writing. And there wasn?t much point in moving for something only slightly better. It was either move into something enormously better, or not move at all. Besides, I enjoyed the neighbourhood, and the fact that I could pretty much get anywhere I needed on foot, or a relatively short bus ride.

I don?t care to be uprooted. There?s an essay by Yann Martel from an anthology I can?t find that discusses the placement of home from someone raised as the child of a diplomat, moving from post to geographic post. Martel discusses discovering a balance and a grounding within, early on; this is a muscle I didn?t develop until well into my 30s, perhaps not even until my time in Edmonton, as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta. My roots are geographic, and have been for the whole of my memory.

My wife finds this idea entirely foreign, having lived with her family in various locations around Mississauga suburbs (including a brief stint in Ottawa) before finally leaving home for University, and living in nearly a dozen places since, including the east coast, downtown Toronto and parts of the UK and Europe until she arrived in Ottawa in 2008. I, on the other hand, have almost exclusively lived less than an hour?s drive from where I originated, having spent fifteen years in Chinatown before our two years on McLeod Street. Once we purchased our house on Alta Vista Drive, it ended my more than two decades as a resident of Centretown.

I know I come about this honestly. The first and last time my father moved was in 1942, when he was less than a year old, moving across the road from the house where he was born. He has remained there since.

During a two-day move of boxes, for the sake of space to pack the remainder of the apartment, Cameron Anstee counted over 250 boxes of books. Just wait until we clean out the storage unit, and get the bulk of my collection moved, not to mention the books still at the farm, or the Chaudiere Books stock to collect from my former business partner.

Everything is packed up into small and smaller spaces. In some ways, I harken this to my own personal big crunch, pushing the entirety of my life so far into a density that can be moved, and once moved, can explode outward again. We will become new, even as so much might be familiar. Our house will explode out with books, shelves and furniture from apartment, storage unit, both of Christine?s parent?s collections, my father?s farmhouse and an array of truck deliveries. We aim to explode into something larger, richer and more organized.

During the madness of the move, there are books I am keeping close: Crosscut Universe: Writing on Writing from France, books by Andrew Suknaski, and recent titles by Brenda Hillman, Margaret Christakos, Jon Paul Fiorentino, Mari-Lou Rowley and Hoa Nguyen, a couple of issues of McSweeney?s and a collection of essays by Jennifer Moxley. All else, impossibly, disappears into cardboard blocks.

Over the years that I?ve been reading, collecting and compiling books, my library hasn?t actually existed as a single unit in nearly 20 years. Upon my arrival into Ottawa, various boxes remained on the farm, to be joined by others over the moves that followed. Roughly 40 percent of the poetry from my last pre-Christine apartment made it to our shared space on McLeod Street, along with only the essential fiction, with the remainder slipped away — temporarily, I told myself — into our new storage unit. We just couldn?t house it all. My essential fiction includes titles by Sheila Heti, Sarah Manguso, Dany Laferrière, Lynn Crosbie, Ken Sparling, Lydia Davis, Gail Scott, Margaret Atwood, John Lavery, Paul Auster, Nicole Brossard and Richard Brautigan, among others. All the rest sent off to storage. Still, the shelves overflowed. Christine was afraid to wade in, for fear of being overcome.

Even as I sort into boxes, there is a reference I?d love to quote, from Alberto Manguel, but I can?t. An essay he wrote on unpacking his library in their converted barn in France. Everything is packed or packing up. In our 1950s dream-house, we scheme, we map, we plan: we set out where the poetry will live on the main floor, the non-fiction in my office and the fiction in the finished basement, all organized, and easily accessible. For the first time, Christine will roam the shelves without fear, and I, without frustration.

When we unpack, we agree to finally merge our libraries: to some, this might mean more to our relationship than the pair of wedding rings, the new house or even the baby. As she points out: now, we can never part.

Born in Ottawa, Canada?s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of more than twenty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2011, and his most recent titles are the poetry collections Songs for little sleep, (Obvious Epiphanies, 2012), grief notes: (BlazeVOX [books], 2012), A (short) history of l. (BuschekBooks, 2011), Glengarry (Talonbooks, 2011) and kate street (Moira, 2011), and a second novel, missing persons (2009). Spring 2014 sees the publication of The Uncertainty Principle: stories (Chaudiere Books). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books (with Jennifer Mulligan), The Garneau Review (ottawater.com/garneaureview), seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (ottawater.com/seventeenseconds) and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater (ottawater.com). He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at http://robmclennan.blogspot.ca/.

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