Sunday, February 3, 2019

Cleaning Up

Yearning to breathe free—that is me, surveying the accumulation of clutter on my desk. January is the time for clean sweeps. In my case, literally.

We spend all year receiving paper into the house. It comes in the form of mail and magazines, bills and circulars, and—yes--our local newspaper, twice a week.
Also, books. Both of us never met a book we could pass by without a surging of maybe. Maybe this is the one we’ll never forget. Maybe this one will reveal the reality within the mystery we write to understand.

Far too many books climb onto our dining table, our bedside tables, every horizontal surface. We hate to throw them away, or give them away. They are our shell of protection, the friends we can return to for insight and reliable support.
To this constant onslaught of paper material, I have one of two responses: Nope. (That’s the easy one, round-file ready.) Or, “Hey, that looks interesting…” The latter is what builds the towers of Babel I find stacked up everywhere at the end of the year. Words on paper, still waiting to be read.

They weren’t interesting enough, apparently.
Fortunately, once I begin the throwing out, I become as obsessive as I am in front of a writing job. Such a visible achievement, these bags of trash! Each one is a trophy whose weight only the garbage men will truly measure.

But I’m serious about breathing free when the clutter is gone. It seems as if those disorderly surfaces were a weight I’ve been carrying, as though in a way, they consumed much of the oxygen in the room. Maybe there’s a microbial reason for this, or maybe it is merely a form of guilt, the heaviness of a task unfinished, testifying to sloth, laziness.
Never mind that I’ve been productive in other realms. Never mind the Everests of laundry, Mojaves of meals, hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of kilobytes typed, pages written and read.

The pages that come in the mail are the ones who have voices in a register that sets my teeth on edge if I do not respond. If I procrastinate.
An easy way to procrastinate is to take Rosie for a walk.

Being a Lab, and habitual, she has a route we follow. She leads. I follow. When I find myself becoming bored, I recite poetry.
This is new for me.

I decided it would be good brain exercise to memorize poetry I liked, which I could practice when doing boring tasks. Driving to Houston. Separating dark and light clothing. Skinning carrots.
Watching Rosie smell a single twelve-inch patch of dirt and grass for ten minutes.

So far I have three poems by heart. Soothing, oldish poems: The Lake Isle of Innisfree, by W.B. Yeats; The Peace of Wild Things, by Wendell Berry; Stopping By Woods, by Robert Frost. You will note they’re all short.
They also evoke the solace of nature. The balm of being in the “lovely, dark and deep,” woods, “alone in the bee-loud glade,” after coming “into the peace of wild things who do not tax their lives with forethought of grief.”

These poems bring me stillness, light and air. And that same sense of breathing free, albeit heightened, that I have right now looking at my (temporarily) uncluttered desk. While the new mail that will begin the process of ruining it waits on the porch for me to carry it inside.

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