On Sept. 13, I will depart from my house in Rockport and head out to a new home, an apartment in San Luis Obispo, California, a beautiful and charming coastal city of 50,000 equidistant from San Francisco and Los Angeles. I’m going to live next door to my youngest daughter, Cynthia, a Security Engineer at Amazon, and her wife, Ally.
I am not eager to leave Maine, or especially Rockport. I love the place. It has been my home for 45 years. I consider it unique among the small towns of America. It’s not just beautiful and salubrious in dozens of different ways, it is populated by an extraordinary group of human beings — intelligent, accomplished, good-natured, liberal in the best sense of the word. I don’t think any other American town of this size can compare.
However, I am 84 and in a rut. It’s not that I don’t enjoy feasting on Netflix and writing something or other of no particular consequence. It’s not that I don’t enjoy endlessly exchanging opinions with friends and acquaintances on every subject imaginable. All of these pastimes fit me like a good suit. But I need another adventure.
Since my wife died a couple of years ago, I’ve done a fair amount of traveling. I’ve been to Washington, D.C. I’ve been to California several times. I’ve been to Florida. I’ve even visited Australia. And I’ve enjoyed every minute of it, although travel is no picnic. But my travels have only temporarily jolted me out of my rut. I return home, take my seat in my office, start up my computer, switch on the TV and the days pass.
My daughter invited me to San Luis Obispo to become an integral part of her life and social circle. We’ve always gotten on well, with just enough conflict to keep us on our toes and laughing. I am in awe of what she’s done with her life and eager to see how it all turns out. Her invitation comes at a time when I’m more than ready to leap out of my rut and into a big new adventure.
And this adventure will change my life in almost every way. I’ll be going from a 2,500 square foot house to an apartment of less than 1,000 square feet. I’ll be going from privacy to being in the midst of everything, with neighbors close on all sides. I’ll be going from four seasons to a single season in which the temperature fluctuates between 70 and 75 degrees. No more plowing. No more snow tires. No more propane. Walking distance to everything. I’ll be going from maybe a dozen restaurants, some excellent, to 75 different eating places of every ethnic variety, whose meals can be delivered to my front door in minutes by DoorDash.
In order to do this, of course, I had to sell my house and that means I had to empty it out. I couldn’t and didn’t want to take it all with me, all the decades of accumulations, memorabilia, documents, gimcracks, knicknacks, gee-gaws, curios, souvenirs, letters, manuscripts, books, unpublished writings, research material — a massive collection, I assure you. I am not a hoarder, but I have made good use of my attic.
So, in the last few weeks, I have been going through this mountain of materials, the warp and woof of my 84 years on planet Earth, from day one until this morning, separating it into “save” (and take with), “donate” and “throw away.” This is a process that involves thousands of decisions, each one taking up two or three seconds.
Perhaps you will not be surprised to learn that this has been a profoundly emotional process. But that took me off guard. I thought it would be nothing more than an efficient exercise of logic and practicality. I underestimated the raw power of memory and its ability to cast me into the past, sometimes the distant past, often triggering unexpected thoughts and feelings. Some happy, some not so much.
I have been reminded of one thing in particular: I’ve been a busy boy all these years. Twenty-two books published and half a dozen that never saw the light of day. Dozens of documentary movies for PBS and other stations, a bunch of TV commercials, and an accumulated research library of about 10,000 volumes (all of which are headed to the Rockland Public Library.) Three marriages and two children, with all the documentation that involves. A dozen jobs, at least, all within a single profession. Forests have been felled to meet my writing needs, and they’ve filled my attic and my closets.
It’s said that when you’re about to die, you see your life pass in front of you. Well, you get the same effect when you empty out a house filled with 45 years or more of ever-expanding possessions. It’s hard not to judge yourself in the process, to measure the shape, size and even value of your life. Did you live up to your own juvenile daydreams? The answer, thankfully I guess, is complicated. But more yes than no.
According to the guys at the dump, who have processed load after load of my accumulations, I have disposed of something like 2,000 pounds of stuff, to use George Carlin’s word for it. Stuff I no longer need, haven’t consulted in decades and won’t miss. And I’ve packed up a much smaller quantity of things from which I can’t yet be separated. That job will fall to my children.
And so, on the 13th of September, I depart for a known location and unknown adventures and discoveries. I am simultaneously thrilled and terrified. And I am grateful to my friends and acquaintances here, who have filled my life with ideas and escapades. I’ll be physically distant in the future, but easily reachable.

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