Sunday, September 16, 2012

Self-imposed grounding and other meaningless gestures

I could easily force a causality between my mental health and the bedraggled state of my bedroom. There is some truth to that, realistically, but the topic exhausts itself rather quickly.

It should be simple enough to say that my bedroom is a mess, but why not indulge in detail? There are more books and sheet music than there are shelves to store them. I have three different laundry hampers (for three kinds of laundry: bedding, towels and clothes) and they are all full, and I have a collection of boxes full of mail I'm afraid to open alongside wedding gifts and baby gifts and Just-thinking-of-you gifts that I may never send. Filling in the cracks, there are sewing boxes, CD's, an old laptop that holds an archive of writing that may or may not be inaccessible, and somewhere in the morass a broken thumb drive that acted as the back-up for that archive.  As long as we're in the catalog of things I cannot throw away but should, there is also one Pooh Bear, one stuffed monkey, a small, red, generic stuffed monster, a collection of single earrings, various failed hairstyling products, and a very beat up 10 CD boom box that usually functions, but does not read burned discs. It's that old.

If my building were to catch on fire and I were forced to choose what to save, I would probably grab my bras (hey, they're expensive), my wallet, and not much else.

Knowing this, I thought it would be simple to clean my room. I told myself, "you were too busy before, spending all your time with Sir Knight, and couldn't keep up with the normal flow of things." And then it went something like, "You were too heartbroken over Sir Knight to move, so clearly the effort of cleaning was beyond you." And then, "It's beautiful outside. How could you waste this day in your bedroom?" And also, "You keep the shared spaces very clean, so it's okay if you live in a pool of your own cess."

Mostly I look around the room and think, "none of this is important. Or maybe all of it is important. In this state of mind, I should not be allowed to make decisions."

Then the first relief of a fall breeze whipped through the room. I was reminded of the ol' back to school hustle, when I would clean my room after the summer vacation, or unpack my dorm room, or move to yet another apartment. I've been here for at least six years, although I'm honestly fuzzy about the dates. That's six Augusts of not packing, not gleaning, not moving. True, my mother cleaned and rearranged my room when I had back surgery, but that hardly counts.

So this weekend I had enough of my brattiness and grounded myself to my room until I cleaned it, young lady!

I report that any visitor who might happen by my room would at least feel there was a floor to walk on, and that I could access my bed without hurting myself or others. The space is filled with clean laundry and thus the scent has improved. Art stuff has been stowed in the closet shelves and there are whole square inches of uncluttered territory on the top of my dresser.

I'm a little bit pleased. Another part of me wants to haul everything out and burn it, leave nothing but a mattress and a lamp and a suitcase of clothes. What is the point of things? Why have fancy dresses and high heels and make-up? For what party? Why save books I enjoyed but will never read again? Why keep books I will never read in the first place? Why have three black sweaters of varying shape and warmth? Why have winter socks? Why save the photo album of friends who are either dead or estranged? Why have nail polish? Why can I not throw away old calendars, paychecks, christmas cards, birthday gifts that never suited me? Why why why surround myself in battlements of mediocrity and past lives. Why force myself to feel heartbreak over and over as I come across another letter, a snip of ribbon, a half-empty journal, a mix tape, a broken watch...

Forget it. Put in some Sam Cooke and fold laundry and don't you dare think. Don't think.

Wednesday, September 05, 2012

At least ten years and many moons ago...

We were coming in from Waltham, which I tried to pronounce with savvy and Britishness as “Wallthum” and was immediately corrected. There is a Ham in Waltham.*

Why was I in Walth Ham?  My best friend from Victor Senior High School was getting her business degree (and hangin’ with pote smockers and joining a performing arts frat) at Bentley College. They had a bus that ran into Harvard Square so the young’ns could get a taste of city life. We were on that bus and I was feeling intrepid.

Now, to be told you’re going to a big city and to be left on a curb outside an Applebee's would be disorienting to most explorers. Luckily, my anticipation was not at all dampened since I come from a town small and safe enough that I never had to learn how to use a house key until I moved to college. Did you even know there’s a learning curve for turning a house key? I was on the embarrassing end of it. I hope this helps you imagine the utter culture shock of spending time in places that had a dense enough population to necessitate mass transportation. In my narrow world, only really seedy people or kids going to community college who refused to live with their parents rented apartments. It may be true, and I hope it isn't, that you can own a trailer park in Victor for the price of renting a studio in Cambridge, Mass. Renting was horribly shameful in my town, as far as I knew. It wasn't done. Likewise, every family I knew had 1:1 car to licensed-driver ratio. Sometimes the youngest licensed driver got the '84 Hatchback from Hell, of course, because who could trust a 16 year old with a sweet ride like a '97 Ford Taurus?

Remember the High School parking lot? All that unbridled horsepower...
Back to the big, bad city... Having vaulted ourselves off the Bentley Bus and into Harvard Square, I felt I had reached out with shaky hands to part the fronds which would reveal the very heart of the urban jungle. And what did I see?

Well.. a copy shop called Copy Cop. (No, I have no self-restraint and I will not apologize.)

Also, trees, red brick sidewalks, windy streets that seemed to start and end and turn into one-ways as they pleased, steeples, gables, trolley lines, hotels, falafel stands, cafes, and people, lovely  self-involved people everywhere. I took a deep breath and said to myself (and perhaps others), “Ah, it even smells like Harvard,” which, I suppose, means Harvard smells like a Greek restaurant, an oily subway air vent, autumn leaves and cigarette butts, and if you’re really lucky, a whiff of that homeless dude who has peed himself so often in each one of the four pairs of pants he now wears simultaneously that you need not have him in your sight to know he is standing in an intersection four blocks upwind of you. Well, that’s how it smelled in the fall of 1999, anyway.

And newsprint. I almost forgot how the newspapers fluttered around corners as the buses whipped past, how they accumulated in sticky sheaves between the slats of park benches, how they skated over the cobbled sidewalks like untidy ghosts with pressing agendas.

All of this is to say that these sense memories comprise the core of what I believe fall should be in New England, even now. Even as I’ve seen the bookstores close, the cafes give way to froyo bars, the face of each passerby private and closed with mundane intentions, now staring into his or her own tiny computer, plugged in and shut out.

This is my tenth anniversary of my move to Massachusetts. For the first time I cannot answer automatically when people ask whether I’ll ever move back home to Victor. It has been so easy to say, “HELL no, NEVER (and don’t tell my mom I said that, she’ll cry.)" But these days I can't remember why I came, besides this nagging thought that I was running from something that seemed gargantuan and has shrunk considerably over the not-unfriendly damage of passing years.

Why be here? Because my entire adult life has been invested here, yes. Because I love the ability to jump on a train to get to the ocean. Because all** of my books are here and it would be a bitch to move them. Because... although my original dreams and resolutions of becoming Something Important never quite blossomed into reality, something else has stuck with me. I made a major and brave decision to be myself outside of the tiny fishbowl that raised me, knowing I could drown in the crowds and never be missed. I live here, and the dude at the Post Office knows I send presents to my nieces and nephew for their birthdays. My neighbor with the motorized wheelchair and aging terrier nods to me when I say hello. The T driver says "Have a good day," after I say, "thank you." I have fallen in love here, been trampled and forgiven and slandered and resurrected here. I have broken here, and grown up around the pieces. Why be here?

*This is potentially silly if you happen to know that Brandeis University is also situated in Waltham and you know that Brandeis is primarily populated by Jewish students and faculty and offers Glatt Kosher items in its main dining room. That is to say, there’s at least one place where ham is made to feel unwelcome.

**Okay, most