Packing material


There is a box in one of our storage closets that contains most of the bubble wrap and newspaper and styrofoam peanuts used in our last move. As we were unpacking, we had just been throwing it away, in the rush to uncover the Stuff. But after the second garbage bag essentially full of air (trapped in plastic bubbles and creases of paper), I couldn't stand it anymore, and I asked my wife to start cramming it into this box. To save. For something.

As you might imagine, the box is light, but its contents consume cubic inches like nobody's business. It has shouldered other more object-filled boxes out of the closet and into the periphery of our living space. It makes no sense to hold onto this material, this manufactured, Staples-brand detritus. I'm storing trash, is what's actually going on.

But I can't bear to throw it away. The thing about packing material is that its only job is to take up space in three dimensions. It can never go bad. It never decomposes into a form that fails to take up space. Bubbles may pop; newspaper may compact and rip. But they are still usable as packing material. They will still continue to take up some space, until the heat death of the universe. The requirements of being packing material are so low. By calling something packing material, you are in essence calling it garbage already. There is no lower state for it to sink to.

But this isn't just my natural cheapness asserting itself. There is a metaphor here, for the postmodernist who wishes to look for it. I feel a certain sentimentality about the plastic and paper that cradled my valuables, stuff that stuffed other stuff that I didn't want to break. It wedged my life together, and provided it with mass and substance, mitigating the doubt and uncertainty about the survival of my clock and my glasses and my Buddha.

My stuff is what fills in the cracks of my life. My stuff is my packing material, shielding me from feelings of emptiness, however temporarily, providing vital infrastructure to allow the parts of my life which are truly beautiful to endure and flower.

My stuff is also the yardstick by which my progress through the world is measured, rightly or wrongly, without which I would have nothing to show which represents the fruit of my labor, and nothing which would force me to wear my cravings on my sleeve.

Now this big box of packing material joins the chorus of the rest of my stuff. It is now stuff itself. It has graduated upwards. It is a totem to the horrors of moving, and to the fact that I survived it.

Now I have a self-deprecating bit I can tell when my parents visit our new house for the first time next month. I can show them this closet and give them the line about how I've reached the point where I'm now storing trash in a cardboard box, and we can all have a laugh about it. This box of packing material is a modular fragment of absurdity, a ready-made joke to disrupt the banality of a "tour" given of four rooms and a basement.

This box of packing material contains worlds and times and tragedies. My keeping it treads the line between madness and poetry. The thought of throwing it away makes me weep.

The distance between love and marriage

The Meaning of Cats