By Denise Dunbar
I have always found long car rides to be great fodder for reflection.
We passed countless signs saying “See Rock City” and “South of the Border” during childhood travels to and from my
grandparents’ homes in Georgia and southern Indiana. The billboards provided familiarity, a way of measuring our progress and material for contests of sign counting.
While traveling through rural North Carolina en route to a family wedding late last month, another simple sign caught my eye. It said, “Self Storage.” The literal meaning was obvious enough, but the sign made me ponder the concept of storing parts of oneself away.
To a certain extent, learning self-storage is organic to growing up. As Bono sang in “Trash, Trampoline and the Party Girl,” “When I was three I thought the world revolved around me / I was wrong.” We learn at an early age to temper the more extreme elements of our personalities in order to be socially accepted.
As adults, we use compartmentalization as a form of self storage. At times, it can be useful to “think about this tomorrow” a la Scarlett O’Hara in “Gone with the Wind.” But when we compartmentalize things we really need to deal with, that compartment can become a weight that prevents forward movement. It can harm our relationships and our happiness.
Sometimes we mothball a facet of ourselves out of expediency. A mother with small children or someone who has just taken a demanding new job may have no choice but to temporarily put aside time for art, music or sports. And then 10 years pass and that person may feel like a significant part of their soul has withered.
Like many people, I have been saddened by the recent death of actress and author Carrie Fisher. On one level, her story is a cautionary tale, as drug abuse may have shortened her life. But I mainly find her an inspirational figure. She acknowledged her demons, battled them, and was entirely open and honest about her struggles, particularly with mental illness. Though I never met her, it appears that very little of Carrie Fisher was in self-storage.
I have been reading “Moby Dick” for the first time recently, and the chapter about “Fast-Fish” and “Loose-Fish” also is relevant to the concept of self-storage. In this passage, Melville discusses the legal aspect of whale ownership. Sim- ply put, the party that has a whale “fast” to it owns it, whereas a whale is fair game if it’s loose, even if another party chased and killed it.
Melville muses that we are all a combination of fast fish and loose fish. Some aspects of our lives are owned or controlled by others, while different parts are loose or under our own control. When we put parts of ourselves into storage, we are voluntarily making fast what should be loose, and thus make ourselves less free.
I’m not big on making specific New Year’s resolutions. Like diet fads, they’re usually short-lived in duration and impact. Lasting life changes generally hap- pen more gradually. But in 2017, I’m going to try and leave less of myself in storage. Middle age makes it easier to free eccentricities anyway.
While 2017 is officially the Chinese year of the Rooster, I’m going to make it the year of the loose fish.
The writer is the publisher of the Alexandria Times.