Tag Archive: clutter

High-Acreage Curiosity

I’m getting ready to take Putney (my dog, for those who haven’t met him) to Camp Clough (AKA my parents) for the summer. I’m leaving soon for 20 days, part of which is a liturgy conference at Yale.

I’m expecting a house guest for two nights, immediately before departing. I haven’t had an overnight guest for months, and the guest room is the staging area for storing winter clothes and disposal of things I no longer need.

Behind my piano is a pile of music: ten volumes of piano rags and French romantic chansons from the Chicago Public Library, a tote bag of choral octavos from Ellen Fisher, a borrowed collection of Schubert piano duets.

Behind my couch is a basket of issues of Maine: the Magazine, Vermont Life, National Geographic, unread, awaiting reading.

My refrigerator is packed full, most of its contents a large collection of sauces, relishes and other accompaniments I’ve picked up in stores trading in local and artisan foods. They keep well, but get used in exceedingly small quantities. On the kitchen shelves is a similar collection of unopened toppings. There are five jars of different kinds of mustard from Raye’s <www.rayesmustard.com> in Eastport, ME . One is open.

Mustard jars

I live alone.

And then there are the books.

A friend of mine popped his head in my office last week, and said, “It looks like a dorm room.”

Scattered about therein are more books and scores.

I need to say right now that I am NOT a collector. In my twenties, I realized that the few collections I had collected for the sake of having collections brought me no joy. There was remorse for spending money on things that had no utility. I committed to no more collecting. No thimbles, no bone china plates of exotic places. Not that there’s anything wrong with it.

In tidying for my guest’s arrival and my departure, I see the problem, arising from my being a curious person. Working with a life coach <www.purposeatwork.com> a few years ago, I articulated a life purpose that is, briefly, to guide others to uncover their own curiosity to lead them to discovery and learning. My life purpose grows out of my own attitude. I find meaning and joy in vacuuming up experiences, then letting them shape my perspective and choices. I thrive on exceptional sensory experiences. Five jars of mustard could tell you that (actually, there are seven jars, but only five from Raye’s) with a translator.

The musical scores, the magazines, the Mason jars. These are containers for experiences. They gather around me, offering adventures. But they compete with each other for my time and energy, and my space. They conflict with my desire to simplify, to live more like the Shakers I visited a few summers ago.

I am immensely blessed to know that curiosity will never, ever let me be bored in this too-short life.

But it’s taking up a lotta space in my apartment!



27 June 2011

We want the myrtle to fill in on the hillside beneath the three grand trees – two oaks and a tulip poplar – on the sloping front lawn. It sprouts, but doesn’t win the competition for space with grass and weeds, and suffers more than they when we mow. The hillside is a nuisance; it’s fairly steep, and the soil is bad, and the trees and ill-placed shrub tussle with the hundred-foot extension cord running out the dining room window to the electric mower. Grass doesn’t favor shady ground with a rich cover anyway.

The electric mower broke last year, and that led to hiring a lawn service. I didn’t get a vote on that, being Income Number Two at our house. I don’t mind mowing, but I very much mind summers in DC. I hate withering humidity combined with body temperature – sometimes even a low-grade fever temperature – on the thermometer in the shade on the back porch. I have since stopped protesting (about the lawn service, that is). I don’t welcome the gasoline engine on my property, but it frees me up to do other things.

Like weeding. Mike the City Gardener was very encouraging when he stopped by last summer and I told him that I wanted to kill our lawn, replace it with low-maintenance perennials and more vegetables. He’s done that at his place. Oh, that one, I thought, when he told me where he lives. There’s not a blade of grass growing in his corner lot. Impressive, like Darth Vader described Luke Skywalker’s handling of his lightsaber during their first duel in “The Empire Strikes Back” (the best of those films by far).

Easter and Spring Gardening coincide cruelly for a church musician in the Middle Atlantic region. Just when plants want to go in the ground, and weeds need to be pulled, there’s Maundy Thursday and the Great Vigil and lots of extra rehearsal time and translations to submit for the bulletins. Organists who want to garden need to move either north or south. Employment options are limited, however, especially when the latter is beyond serious consideration. So, by the time I got started on the weeding, body temperature was appearing pretty regularly on the thermometer, and for a Northern Person, that’s a discouragement from doing things outdoors in our buggy, muggy yard.

I returned from Maine to find, however, an extended respite from the Hot, and thus there has been time to garden.

We live in an urban forest (you can pick out our little wedge of a city on the aerial photos simply by looking for the dramatically thicker tree cover), so there are lots of birds. Rather than knock off a couple of chatty podcasts, I decided to forgo the headphones and listen to the dialogue between the birds and the delivery trucks. Putney, our cocker spaniel, joined me outside, and argued some with the crows. They annoy him; I don’t know why. If he could talk, he’d probably say, between gnaws on his Nylabone, “Y’know what annoys me? Those damned crows cawing all the time.” Putney knew Poppa, and probably picked up the “Y’know what annoys me?” thing from him. Poppa once said that he was going to walk down the street several blocks with his loppers and take off that annoying low branch from the spruce tree growing on someone else’s yard that blocked the sidewalk. We still talk about that. Also that he would turn his high beams on at an oncoming motorcycle because its headlight was on during the day. Never mind that it was the law in New York. It annoyed him. He made us laugh, the lovable old curmudgeon. We still do. I dreamt about him yesterday morning.

I pulled weeds, listened to the birds, talked to Putney. The postal carrier came to the door on the opposite side of the house, and Putney didn’t see her. That’s one day that Putney didn’t bark at her from inside while my other half was trying to work in the living room. I should have gotten a thank you for that. “You know what annoys me?” he might otherwise say about the daily dog–mailman routine. Or I might say for not getting that thank-you.

I like pulling weeds. Slow work, but not arduous, it busies the hands, but frees the mind. I got to thinking. Pulling weeds clears out clutter, and makes space for other things to grow, things we nurture and want to see succeed, like dreams and children. Not all weeds are empirically bad. Sometimes they are perfectly fine things in places where we don’t want them. But sometimes, they are anathema (I like that word; it’s real theological, evoking a really bad decision to do, or think, something pagan that ruffles a lot of pious feathers). Poison ivy is anathema. Unless you’re trying to discourage those damned kids from cutting through your yard. “Y’know what annoys me?”

I thought about work and about home. I’ve got lots of weeds in my life, and weeding made me think about how my dreams and ambitions, the proverbial plants I want to thrive, are battling some aggressive weeds. The mess on the dining room table is a bed of weeds. The overflowing closet is a grove of weeds. Too many tasks at work are weeds; they block the path to the passion-driven activities that got me into the field in the first place. And then there are weedy people. They are crows, distracting me from my calling; or deer that eat the flowers off my lilies in the night. I put the plants in the ground and mulch them and water them and I go to sleep and someone comes along and bites off the flowering of my good work. “Y’know what annoys me?”

There’s lots of weeding to be done.