If I were J. D. Salinger, I could sell all this stuff for millions

“Actually, this is just a place for my stuff, ya know? That’s all; a little place for my stuff. That’s all I want, that’s all you need in life, is a little place for your stuff, ya know? I can see it on your table, everybody’s got a little place for their stuff. This is my stuff, that’s your stuff, that’ll be his stuff over there.” – George Karlin, A Place for My Stuff Lyrics

paperstuffWriters tend to save paper stuff – books, magazines, newspapers, clippings, letters, certificates, notes, business cards, programs, photographs, greeting cards, postcards, legal papers, vintage business forms, brochures and guidebooks, old highway maps, maps of the world the way it was when they were born, grade school drawings and fake Confederate money from old Cheerios boxes.

I even saved my deed for an inch of land in the Klondike from out of a Quaker Oats box long after the Big Inch Land Company went out of business. I had big plans for that square inch.

There’s an unwritten rule about paper stuff: once you throw it away, you’ll need it.

I’ve thrown away a lot of stuff and then regretted in some years later when I needed it for a book or article I was writing.

Brainwashing, Bad Genes, Or Bad Karma

The Karma train is at least 100 cars long.
The Karma train is at least 100 cars long.

I probably threw out somebody’s stuff in a previous life and now the karma train has dropped it off at my house in this life. Otherwise, all this stuff is my parents’ fault. Here’s why: brainwashing. Before I could walk or talk, I knew that stuff was the be-all and end-all of a writer’s life no matter how many rooms of the house it took up, and even if you didn’t know what it was and never looked at it.

When my wife, brothers and their wives and I cleaned out my parents’ house in the 1980s, the place was filled with paper stuff. If they had been famous people, this  would have been the kind of stuff that ended up in the basement of a historical society where online references would refer to it as X number of linear feet of unsorted papers: please contact the archivist for an appointment. Hourly research fees to find what may or may not be in one of the boxes are $150.

I threw away a lot of the stuff. We got rid of a lot of the larger stuff in a garage sale and got roundly criticized by my parents’ friends got getting rid of the stuff. We explained that we lived in small apartments and houses and had no room for a giant household full of stuff that wouldn’t even fit in a moving van.

Time being short to get out of that house, we moved some of the stuff with us. My wife and I have moved several times since then, usually bringing along the boxes, still labelled as they were in the mid-1980s without looking in them.

Time to See What The Hell All this Stuff Is

Well, now I have to look into them. We no longer have room for it. So, I’ve been throwing away stuff for the past several months. I hated to see some of it go because, well, it must have been important stuff at one time or another, the kind of stuff I could sell for millions if I had the fame of Salinger or Rowling.

They have room for some of my book-type stuff
They have room for some of my book-type stuff

I have a tip for you: if you save paperwork from several generations back in time, eBay doesn’t want it. I’ve dumped (donated) 15 boxes of books to the local library for their yearly garage sale and I think I’ve just about worn out my welcome. The recycling center knows my name because they’ve seen me dump some 50-60 grocery bags of magazines and “office paper” into the recycling bins.

Throwing away stuff would be easy if I could tent a backhoe and a dumpster and clear the “treasures” out of the house during a long afternoon. Even though my parents never hid $100 bills in old books and papers, I keep thinking, “But the time I don’t check, that’s when it will be there.”

But then I would never know, so it would be the same as it not being there.

I should have listened more closely to George Karlin’s “A Place for My Stuff” the first time I heard it. I guess I thought it only applied to non-writers.

So far, nobody’s called and said, “Malcolm, you know that crap you threw out two months ago? I was going to give you $100000000000 for it, but you weren’t answering your phone that week.”

For years, I thought, I’ll wait one more week to see if I need this stuff or somebody calls and wants to buy it. You see how it goes and why there’s so much of it.

You may also like: You Should Spend Money on Experiences, Not Things: Anticipation of a new experience is the best part, new data shows “It’s been over a decade since American psychologists Leaf Van Boven and Thomas Gilovich concluded that doing things makes people happier than having things.”


TSScover2014Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy adventure novels including “The Sailor” and “The Sun Singer.”


Sky, from the toes up

“I thank you God for this most amazing day, for the leaping greenly spirits of trees, and for the blue dream of sky and for everything which is natural, which is infinite, which is yes.” – e. e. cummings

When I was in the first or second grade and learned that the earth revolves, I wondered why the ground did not move beneath my feet when I jumped. How perplexing; I come down just where I started, I thought.

My dad explained that the atmosphere moves with the earth and, in fact, if it didn’t, there would be a substantial windstorm blowing us down around the clock.

For years, I viewed the sky as something far way, especially on clear nights when the stars—according to my observations—moved on flight paths much more distant that clouds, airplanes, or the helium balloons that escaped our grasp at the county fair.

I supposed at an early age that an ant’s view of the sky includes everything from my toes up. My feet are shadows and my hands are clouds and my head is a far planet. I believed they were misinformed and/or had poor eyesight because the sky was miles away.

Dog Island (marked with an “A”) is three and a half miles off the coast.

Early on a Saturday morning when I was in high school, I went to Alligator Bay on the Gulf Coast south of Tallahassee, Florida, with Tommy and Jonathan for a boat ride over to Dog Island. Jonathan’s family had a speed boat anchored just off the beach near his family’s summer cottage. The faraway sky was blue and cloudless, and the water was tranquil.

After a day of swimming, snorkeling and sand-dune exploring, we headed back just as a storm began developing farther to the west. The sky grew very dark before we reached the bay sheltered by Alligator Point. The high chop of the waves slowed our progress, so the afternoon was winding down before we set the anchor and waded ashore. We were quite relieved we hadn’t swamped the boat, something we hadn’t done for a year or two.

As we stood watching the storm pass by outside the bay, the setting sun appeared low on the western horizon with one of the most spectacular golden sunsets I have ever seen. The beach, the boat, and the surf were bright orange and glowing with light. Meanwhile, the lightning from the passing storm to the south of us, was also bright orange, and it hissed as it snaked across the sky over our heads and shook the world with its hollow thunder.

We stood without saying a word, and to this day, I think those moments still represent one of the most mystical experiences I have ever had. On that golden beach just out of the storm’s reach, everything was possible and yes and hopeful and connected. “The sky is everywhere, it begins at your feet,” wrote Jandy Nelson in her young adult novel. Yes it is, and on that afternoon, it was clear to me that I stood within the sky and not below it.


This post originally appeared on my Magic Moments weblog. As I get ready to shut down that blog, I thought I’d run a few of my favorite posts from the archive. Looking back on that day on the beach made it easier for me to understand a quote from “Seth” in the books by Jane Roberts: “There is no place where consciousness stops and the environment begins, or vice versa.”