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Emails to my Therapist

People Scattering Like It’s Graduation

Dear Nicholas,

I never knew until now that reaching “a certain age” would lead to one’s people scattering in every direction.  This happened at the end of high school and the end of college, and those experiences felt like normal expected transitions, welcome next steps.

However, there was no ceremony and no diploma for this new change. Instead, this new somewhat-gradual graduation is sending my dear ones in several directions: moving to the beach, moving to be closer to grandchildren or ancient parents, moving to nursing homes and retirement villages, returning to hometowns.



The beginning of After


What the hell! I do not welcome it, though I’m being very tolerant. I didn’t realize that my 51 years of Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill community was temporary. Or at least I thought that, excepting for a restless few, it was “until death do us part.”

Oldsters On the Move

How wrong I was! My local friends and relatives seem to think that what they’re doing is normal and reasonable, even exciting. And, of course, I can’t pitch a fit about their doing what they need or want to do. Moreover, in each case I see the appeal or reason for the choice. It’s just an unsettling surprise, a startling trend.

I’m dealing with it now in a very hands-on way, by throwing away 95% of what’s in my office file cabinets.

Artful file cabinet, previously crammed, now 95% empty

The reason: my dear friend of decades and office partner of 16 years, Carrie Knowles, is selling the building we’re in, so I’m moving my office to my house. My Covid year working on the sofa prepared me for this, but I was still keeping my large backlog of “stuff” in my office. When I first learned that we’ll probably be out of this wonderful old house in Raleigh’s Oakwood by the end of the year, I couldn’t imagine where at home I could fit in three file cabinets, one tall chest of drawers, a desk, a steamer trunk, and two bookshelves.

Now I’m finding out I didn’t need all this stuff.

The Great Paper Dump

One full basket of paper recycling out four days in a row

It’s a trip through my 49 years of freelance writing to go through it.   I discovered a journal I kept in 1975 while I was covering the NC Legislature for UNC-TV and the Norfolk paper. And a great pile of actual paper letters readers wrote me about my pre-email first novel Revelation. I found a roughly 30-year-old short story I’d forgotten ever writing and thought: this is pretty good, I should send it out. A little deeper in the file, I discovered it had already been published.  And then there were notes and pictures from the five years or so when I was spending about half time doing travel writing.  And the reviews of a musical of my novel Sister India staged by a classic Indian dance troupe in Minneapolis, as well as the notes for a never-completed musical I worked on briefly with a group of good friends (thanks for getting us together for that lark, Randee Russell Bieler.) The subject was fat and I’d filed it under “fat musical.” My suggested title: A Pepperoni Chocolate Cheesecake Milkshake Noodle Craving. Broadway is still waiting.

People Scattering, My World Shifting

Carrie is also clearing out her old stuff across the hall in her office and studio and the process of our both doing this has been fun. However–the underlying circumstance is disconcerting. As Carrie herself wrote of the main character in her most recent novel A Musical Affair: “The world had shifted on her a little.”

Well, the cliche/adage/truism is: when a door closes, another one opens. We’ll see.  At least I’ll no longer make the long commute to town so often and that will free  time. And fortunately there are a few stable souls in my world who are staying put or at least not moving far. But I wonder how all this will go. I’m an ever-nervous houseguest (worried I’ll break the towels or some such) and nothing special as a host.  There’s always Zoom, though. We’ll all work out something. I’m counting on it.

Office in process

By the way, Nicholas, when will you be coming back to town again?


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  • Judy Carrino
    June 8, 2021 at 2:13 pm Reply

    I know how you feel; I have been tasked with cleaning out our office before the cleaning women come back for the first time in over a year. It looks as though a hoarder lives here at the moment. The problem is – much of it needs keeping – but put in order. Therein lies the rub. There is neither time nor motivation to do any of it, and I fear I’ll shred something we will need in the future. Good luck with your files, and don’t be a stranger to town!

    • Peggy Payne
      June 8, 2021 at 3:16 pm Reply

      Can’t give up Raleigh completely, Judy. For one thing, it’s a good idea to put on town clothes once in a while. Good luck with your office. We have a room at home that I’d like to approach with a fork lift.

  • Ed
    June 8, 2021 at 2:41 pm Reply

    Slogging through all that paper is a kind of life review. Scan, assess, toss, move on. Richard and I are right there with you, Peggy.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 8, 2021 at 3:15 pm Reply

      I’m glad the three of us are keeping each other company, Ed!

  • Jim Maney
    June 8, 2021 at 3:42 pm Reply

    At a certain point in the process you’ll realize that freedom from all that “stuff” is at hand. Then you can sit back and listen to one of George Carlin’s routines on stuff before you go ahead and finish the job.
    But it’s only a temporary reprieve. Even though I cleared my life of everything that couldn’t fit in the overhead compartment a half-dozen years ago, Lockdown put me back in the shedding mode: books I’ve collected but will never read again, clothes I haven’t worn in a while, and similar burdens. Is it time to look again at Cain & Abel and reconsider how the differences between hunter-gatherer and settler personalities are played out in this century?

    • Peggy Payne
      June 8, 2021 at 3:48 pm Reply

      Will check out George Carlin, Jim. Thanks. And it’s amazing how stuff grows back, and it doesn’t take long either. But the shedding thing can spread to other areas of life too. I tossed a skirt into the give-away basket just this morning.

  • Robert Braxton
    June 8, 2021 at 3:52 pm Reply

    Two brothers, five sisters were born after me – the first sister when I was five-and-a-half years of age – she died in 2017, March. Our basement since 1980 has EIGHT filing cabinets, four drawers each, plus many more bankers boxes filled with file folders and papers, a collection that was well on its way in 1962 when I arrived at University my freshman year. Putting in order seems too large a task for me at age 76. I desire to let go and find a home for tons of personal papers, in digital form or otherwise – leavings of an eccentric.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 8, 2021 at 3:55 pm Reply

      That’s a large collection, Bob. You might find it pretty interesting to go through some of it. I was enjoying it until I got to the tax files.

  • June 11, 2021 at 11:35 pm Reply

    a new stage of developmental psychology.

    • Peggy Payne
      June 12, 2021 at 2:14 pm Reply

      Gaily Sheehy miss this one?

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