You may have noticed these last two weeks that my essays and drawings have been a little on the sparse side. Well, I’ve missed you all. In my brief absence, I’ve been busy working on a thing that needed doing. I’ve been trying to set up my office— the operative word being “trying.” And while I’ve been trying to set up my office, and doing a few other chores betwixt and between, I’ve been thinking a great deal about expectation and boxes and breathing.
See, here’s the thing— I’ve been living in this house for a year. Prior to this house, I lived in my last house for nine years. Nine. Years. Even with rigorous editing and donating, I managed to accumulate eight lifetimes worth of stuff. Weird sweaters that don’t fit anyone. A wooden fertility doll with realistic hair. Chairs that go flurp when you sit down on them. It took my entire family to sort out the contents of the last house, shake it into boxes, and cram it into this house. (Did I mention I come from a nice family? Did I mention they read Bluebird Blvd.?)
For over a year now, I have lived in a house full of boxes, boxes with Sharpie labels scrawled in my own mysterious shorthand. Every day is a twisted guessing game. Is this the box that contains all of the photography supplies? Is this the box of ‘50s Chinoserie? Is this the box that contains the head of Nefertiti painted in sad scribbly acrylic that my husband altered to make cross-eyed? Did I really label that box Xxliizx? And why does it contain sponges?
I still can’t find more than six pairs of matching socks. Half of my lamps are in storage, so I wander in and out of pools of insufficient light. The walls, while painted lovely colors, remain blank of art and strangely silent. Each room is a refugee room— loved and wanted, but disoriented and unfixed in time and place.
Two weeks ago, I finally had enough of smacking my shins through boxes in my office to get to my desk. As I’ve made my living as a writer for the better part of my life, even writing that sentence sounds foreign. But, due to personal circumstances, I need to move a little bit slower when I’m working, and frankly, my brain has no idea what to do with that concept. It fries me a little thinking about it.
I want it done righthtisminute. I want the room finished. I want the custom curtains to fly out of my unskilled fingers and the shelves to be painted by highly skilled elves. That’s not going to happen. What is going to happen is that I’m going to slowly put each and every thing in a place, and make it functional, and doing that, with love and patience, will take time. And, while I’m doing it, I’m probably going to curse a little bit.
That’s the future. Here’s the now:
At the moment, I am sitting at a desk with my two Foo Dogs that have sat on every desk I’ve ever had, Mr. Koko Mojo the raven puppet, two hideous Hollywood Regency lamps with the cherubs that look as though they’re kicking invisible people in the kneecaps, and thoughts of mystery boxes and patience. Especially patience. Sometimes I need to be reminded of what is—and what is not—important. My experience this weekend was a good reminder of what a great teacher patience can be.
Over the weekend, I tutored the child of a family friend, a young twelve-year-old, who is applying to a magnet school. M. needed direction and instruction on the basic tenets of essay writing. We sat down on that rainy Saturday morning at the banquette in my living room. She was stressed about writing and worried about finishing her application. After we settled in, and had our notebooks in front of us, this is what I had to say to the young M.:
“The first thing you want to do when you are writing an essay is to take a breath. A nice, deep breath. I know this (application) may seem big now, but we’re going to break it down into little parts.
“We’re going to do one thing at a time. And we’re going to take breaks. You can do this. You are smart and capable. And I’m going to be right here to help you along.
Are you ready to get started? Okay. Close your eyes. Take a nice slow breath. Now. Let’s begin.”