Importance of importance

Early in my career, I was in charge of a nascent computer department at a city medical center. Paper records ruled at that time and there was a natural reluctance among the older established docs, to implement computerization of their operations. There happened to be enough work in laying the groundwork of basic operations, (i.e., wiring, workstation hardware and software installations and updates, etc.) before it became necessary to address these hard-to-convince doctors. There was one exception though. One proactive department head wanted to proceed quickly. When I mentioned that we had to prioritize our tasks, she told me, “Oh that’s simple. Just make all my tasks first priority.”

Of course, giving all tasks first priority is exactly the same as having no priority list at all.

Why importance, all of a sudden?

My wife and I will be moving cross-country in a couple of months to be close to our grandchildren, where I’ll be able to be a part of their lives. I also will be able to observe the blooming of a new sibling relationship from the perch of grandparenthood.

We are privileged to be able to leave a good portion of our stuff behind, as we plan to return within a year or two. My wife received this advice from our son-in-law, “Just take the important stuff.” Seems like a no brainer, right? It must seem so to our daughter and son-in-law. But there are several differences between them and us: 1) they have moved every couple of years, without fail; 2) they are not as sentimental as us; 3) they do not collect things; 4) they do not have 25-30 years of accumulation.

Simple question…

Bring only what is important, must seem like a trivial and obvious thing to do, but it really got me thinking. How do I rank things of importance? Pots and pans, bedding, clothes, chairs and tables are important, of course, so they can go. What else?

Not-so-simple answer

My problem is my wide range of interest during my life – not serial, but cumulative. While some of my interests recede, they can surface at a moment’s notice. Rarely do I totally lose interest in something.

Combining my interests with my tendency to collect, I have accumulated in-depth, esoteric collections of: 1) sheet music, music books and instruments; 2) books about painting; 3) books about philosophy; 4) books about neuroanatomy; 5) books about photography; 6) books of photographs – many signed by authors; 7) thousands of my own photographs and negatives; 8) artwork of others; 9) books about psychology, neurology, psychiatry and autism; 10) books about artists’ books; 11) books about artists; 12) books about writing; 13) books about book binding; 14) science fiction books; 15) art supplies: watercolors, watercolor paper, pencils, ink pens; 16) camera equipment, etc.

I must find a way to rank importance. But most of my interests are interwoven. I find cross connections in many of the areas that hold my interest. For example, the creative act of painting can be addressed through the lens of neurology and psychology. Inspiration can be gotten from leafing through art books, science books, philosophy books, and so on.

But if everything is so important to me, isn’t it the same as everything being equally unimportant?

I learn a lot from books, in fact, just yesterday I was reading The Sunday Philosophy Club [1] a mystery book, and came across a word I never knew: akrasia. It means ‘the state of mind in which someone acts against their better judgment through weakness of will’.


I hope I am strong enough to judge what is most important and to follow through.

[1] Smith, A.M. The Sunday Philosophy Club New York: Pantheon Books, 2004

6 thoughts on “Importance

  1. When someone very close to you leaves this life, you have to deal with all they’ve left behind. That taught me a lot about my own accumulations. When you stop by an estate sale and watch the people poking about the departed’s belongings, you cry. A life well-lived or a life lived clinging too much in the past? And what is life without the history of what has happened in your lifetime?
    I just moved from a huge house — two households in one, really. One to accommodate my mother and disabled sister, one to accommodate my husband and myself, plus visiting children, grandchildren and friends — to a very small house with a very small yard just big enough for two very tiny chihuahuas. Husband passed away, leaving so little behind that I cling to his old shoes and t-shirts as if they were gold. Mother in a nearby assisted living facility, sister with me. Mom, being 93, has accumulated twice as much as I have — her father’s tools from Hungary, her mother’s crocheted antimassacars, her wedding gifts, her children’s vaccination records and diplomas, ancient photos of her twelve brothers and sisters, clothes, piles and piles and piles of clothes, mended by her own work-weary hands. she never threw out anything, and even the throw-outable became rags, clean, folded rags which I have been using to clean the basement and garage where her life’s possessions will be stored.
    So at sixty-eight I will be careful to save only the stuff of my life that might have importance to others. My goal this year is to scan and throw away my thousands of negatives and Kodachromes. In saving only the best of the best, people may believe that I was a great photographer, not just lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time in the right light.
    Ten years ago when I asked my daughter if she wanted her baby dresses, the shoes she first walked in, the tiny white blonde curls of her first hair cut, she laughed. This time, at age 45, she took them and cried. Sometimes it’s just growing up that makes you see the value of what’s important.

    • I understand, Anne. I imagine that it is wonderful to finally have a loved one take in interest in something you saved, like your daughter and her childhood dresses.
      Your idea of tossing your mediocre negatives and slides is a good one too. That’s not trickery, it’s editing. I have such a hard time with that, preferring, somehow to see the genesis of my talents, including the crappy photos. If i ever became a famous artist, I figure, I should leave a trail of bread crumbs for the art students of the future. ha ha ha ha..Now you see the image I have (had) of myself…

      Thank you, as always, Anne, for your thoughtful comments.



  2. Moving used to be such fun. My job required the moves and they paid for all of our relocations. Once I retired and had to start paying for the movers and storage, we implemented a new rule. “Must have used the item in the past year. If haven’t used, we must dispose of the item appropriately.” The rule applies to every item in our home, both offices, my husband’s studio and the garage.

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