I am organizing my books, and the Discourse is misrepresenting Marie Kondo again, because where would we be if the commentariat consistently read the work we were misrepresenting in service of our current polemic.
Organizing my books is really a proxy for being forced to make decisions, like whether I really need to hang on to every one of those books about the 2008 financial crisis, or whether it is more ethical to donate the book by the serial harasser to the library or to recycle it.
Books are not the hardest things for me to organize, though they are materially related to that particular foe: papers and documents.
When you have lived for two decades in countries for which you lack citizenship, you accumulate paper.
Proof of successful visa applications. Proof of unsuccessful visa applications.
Receipts that you’ve paid all of your taxes on time, all the time.
Copies of the certifications and achievements recommendations that might sway the relevant bureaucrats to approve rather than deny your petitions.
Copies of the leases for every apartment you’ve rented, because you will be asked over and over again to list them all, down to the exact day of the week that you moved in.
Evidence that you’ve had all your shots, now with bonus Pfizer.
Certified copies of your secondary school transcripts and your A Level exam results, your undergraduate degree and proof that didn’t owe anyone any fees at the end, the addendum explaining that not all universities base their assessments on a GPA.
Your original birth certificate in a separate folder from the notarized colour copies, just in case.
Letters you never sent, the envelopes sealed and sometimes even stamped.
Letters from friends and ex-boyfriends.
Letters from one dead friend and one dead ex-boyfriend.
Reporters’ notebooks, dozens of them, because you listened when the lawyers said it would be “not ideal” if you were ever sued and didn’t have your notes. You knew enough by then to understand that “not ideal” is British lawyer speak for absolute fucking disaster.
Notebooks filled with the records of meetings, your emotional register clear from the quality and intensity of your handwriting, the presence or absence of doodles an indicator of how present you were that day.
I need these papers. They are, in a very real legal sense, proof that I am who I say I am. Proof of where I’ve been. Proof of what I’ve done. A series of clues about where I might be allowed to go.
So I lug them around, between countries and continents, accumulating more of them each year. A psychic weight and a physical one.
Papers, please? I’ve got them all, but I will probably never shake the feeling they won’t be enough.
She asks for the address of your current home.
You clear your throat and fold your hands on your lap.
Secretly, you imagine you have just met her
in a train, on the way to some undecidedly beautiful place.
we are living
in this continent for now
we had to leave paradise
when we became of age a common ritual
how about you? did you know
this continent is but a well-rooted boat?
did you know roots are easy
The officer has a catalog of potential questions in her eyes.
You are the last question mark inside that list.
She asks if you have committed any crimes.
—from Conversation with Immigration Officer by Ae Hee Lee