February 8, 2012

Tabula Rasa

Jewish people are not buried in their favorite clothes.  We don’t have elaborate coffins or little trinkets to take with us to the next world.  We are wrapped in a simple white shroud and sent out of this world the way we came in: bare and alone.

I question many things about Judaism, but the burial resonates with me.


When I was about to turn ten years old, I moved into my grandparents’ two-bedroom condo on the canal in Bay Harbor, Florida.  We had a pool out back, crotchety neighbors to the left, and salamanders on the pavement.

On my first day at Bay Harbor Elementary School, I introduced myself as “Robin.”  I’d never gone by my middle name before, but no one here knew my name and I could begin any way I wanted to.

I was shedding my Amherst identity.  No longer was I the child sent to school in dirty clothes.  No more was I the stepdaughter punished by sleeping naked in the hallway.  In Amherst, I left the girl ignored by her father and beaten by his wife.

Three months in I realized how much more lyrical “Emily” sounded to me.  I switched back, confusing the hell out of my peers.


“Moves are exciting for kids like Zachary,” she said to me, “because it seems like a fresh start.  But we take our old selves with us.”

True enough.  I’ve moved 15 times in 38 years, and that’s not counting getting a new apartment or house in the same general area.  Fifteen fresh starts.  Each time I remained myself.

That said, moves have a way of crystallizing what is important.  An acquaintance who remains in touch after I move away is by definition a friend.  I shed belongings before packing, so I learn just what kinds of items I most value.  (Books, in case you were wondering.  I never give away the books.  But does anyone want a S’mores maker?)  In the Massachusetts town where we’ll be moving next week, I’ve already set up milk delivery. It’ll be months before I find a hairdresser.

I will still be honest to a fault, too blunt for comfort.  I’ll still be impatient, quick-tempered, and a little odd.  Lilah will still suck her thumb, Benjamin will still be a force of destruction, and Zachary will still survive on chocolate milk and granola bars.

Yet, when we move, we discard so many of the trappings of our lives.  It turns us inward, to the family, to the people who really matter.


Yes, my blog disappeared for 36 hours, and no, I didn’t freak out.  Ask Jennifer Schmitt, who designed and maintains my site.  I was pretty calm about the whole thing.  My archives have gone gently into that good night.  My blog is a clean slate.

It doesn’t really matter.  Once upon a time, the thought of losing any of my words horrified me, and I still backup like a motherfucker.  I have a friend who keeps copies of all important manuscripts.  But there’s something to be said for starting over here.

In the weeks and months to come, I’ll clutter the site with my thoughts again.  Today, however, it is lustrous in its emptiness.  There’s space to spread my arms.

We have so much baggage that we carry with us no matter where we go; there’s no point in adding extra.


We are foolish to think we can go to our graves with anything other than the skins we brought into this world.  Beginnings and endings are bare – it is only what we do in the middle that counts.

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  • Reply Issa February 8, 2012 at 5:32 pm

    When the evil clown ate my blog, I wanted all my words back so badly. Now I wish it hadn’t been possible. I guess the thought of a clean slate seems nice.

  • Reply Coco February 8, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    A fresh start. Indeed. I look forward to all your new words.

  • Reply magpie February 8, 2012 at 8:42 pm

    i never move. in june i’ll go to my 30th college reunion – since college, i’ve lived in four places. i sort of envy your freedom, and it sort of scares me.

    (hey, can i visit you in june?)

  • Reply Mona Wise February 8, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Wishing you a smooth move Emily. The books arrived for the children and they have already almost devoured them. Hugs to you from Ireland, where it is a little more festive when it comes to burying our dead and even a tragic parting takes a good three days of food, fun and storytelling. xx

  • Reply Heather February 9, 2012 at 1:54 am

    I’m glad you’re back! I had to go hunt you down on facebook for my emily fix. I hope you’re moving to my town.

  • Reply alejna February 9, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    Have I told you lately how much I admire you?

    Your post reminds me of the time I went to a fellow grad student’s apartment. He’d only been living there a few months, and he had very few things. He had some kitchen things, and a few pieces of furniture. When I saw an empty closet through an open door, I felt immensely jealous.

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