Surfaces

I am by nature a person who likes order, everything in its place even if that place requires some reordering from time to time. Case in point: I have a thing for scarves. Just when I fear I have too many, I reorganize. Voilà—no more digging into a drawer to stumble on one I almost forgot I had. Abundance, something I do not take for granted, often becomes a nudge to divest.

There’s no having too many books, on the other hand.  The conundrum here is organizing them in a way that makes sense:  certain shelves devoted to poetry, others to art, novels grouped in ways even I sometimes puzzle over. I have my own logic (not alphabetical), which makes it all the more frustrating when I can’t locate a particular book that somehow is not on the very shelf in the very room where I was so sure I had put it.

Then there’s my kitchen. I certainly managed well enough before we reconfigured storage for plates, cookware, utensils, pantry staples. But a well-thought-out upgrade makes for a more efficient entertaining and cooking space. The pièce de resistance has to be a drawer devoted to spices 😉

Hard to say whether my affinity for order has a genetic component or is an acquired predisposition that comes from years of living in small apartments where the slightest disarray would seem magnified. And it hardly matters. I have a theory about space: the less you have, the more efficiently you use it.  Move from the small apartment to the large house on the hill and, for some reason, you have trouble finding room for everything.

All of which makes it amusing to me when I walk around my house to see things placed on surfaces everywhere. The bed in the room that was my daughter’s seems to have become my laundry sorting and folding surface.  I take my time, let freshly laundered clothes and towels sit there, until I’m ready to fold. Which could still be days before I put things away,

Issues of the New Yorker sit here and there, a visual point of pickup reminding me of articles I haven’t finished reading, new issues I haven’t even skimmed.

Whatever it is that brings some semblance of order to our lives is a good thing. Being a slave to order is not a good thing. Then again, order is one step removed from ritual, which is nothing if not a way of ordering our lives.  There’s no creating stories without sitting down regularly to write. There’s no quieting the mind in a meditation practice without sitting, paying attention to the in and out of breath, acknowledging the spin of thoughts and feelings that keep us from truly settling into the here and now, which brings us back to the in and out of breath. Open to any page in any of the books by the always enlightening Pema Chodron and something is bound to resonate. Here’s a Zen story I love from Comfortable with Uncertainty. It goes something like this: a man is by himself in a boat on the river in a boat at dusk. When he sees another boat coming toward him, it makes him happy at first to think someone else is enjoying the river on a summer night. The boat approaches faster and faster. The man stands up, screaming now for the boat to turn aside. The boat smashes into him. It’s an empty boat.

The mind is a knotty entity, sometimes leading us to perceive things not there.  As I keep trying to fathom the wisdom of Buddhism, I do my best to let that bigger thing called Mind remind me that everything really does change. Impermanence is the real order of our lives.  Barely a week ago, in this wintry Northeast landscape, the surface of the lake I walk around when weather permits was frozen solid. A bombogenesis that left me with a new word to play with and lots of snow gave way to much milder weather and a lawn I can see again. Today the lake is once again frozen. Think of all the shapes water takes and the metaphors it embodies. Even when surface water freezes, something is going on below.

 

As I sit writing, I get word of the death of someone once married to a cousin of mine. I have not seen her in years. What her death brings to the surface are feelings about the distance—in miles as much as mind—that loosens family ties once so tightly bound.  Expectation surrounding rituals (birth, bar and bat mitzvah, weddings, funerals) once a given, gives way to less absolute assumptions. Death brings a pause to any order in our day, not to mention our lives. Memories close to the surface, colored by time, may make us long for something long gone. Deeper memories paint a truer picture of the home we left, the one we can never really go back to.

 

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Am I missing something?

My daughter e-mails me a link to a site, Better Book Titles, very tongue-in-cheek in its recasting of great works into reductive one liners, and I immediately send out a tweet: ‘Spiders Make Great Publicists,’ by E. B. White. You don’t have to be a writer to lol about this. . .

I’m getting the hang of it, the art of the tweet, the curiosity of the follow(er).  I began blogging over a year ago, nudged along by writer/friends, one in particular who spelled out  her own blog’s evolution in an eloquent post, Questioning the Blog. We often talk about serendipitous moments — you open a book to just the page that fits your thoughts today — and today she just happens to have a pithy post about Solitude.

Writers work in solitude, and they crave community. The question I ask myself on any given day is: how much is too much?  It’s only within the last year that I’ve begun moving into that fathomless online sea of networking: I belong to She Writes, LinkedIn, Goodreads, and most recently, #amwriting, lured by tweets from its founder, Joanna Harness, this oh-too-irresistible one the other day: Get Out There and Do NOT Tweet! I post to Scribd via my affiliation with the Women’s National Book Association. I write regularly for smartly.new york.

All of which brings its own rhythm to my workday.  On the best of days, there are no false starts for me. A mug of French Roast at my fingertips, I  take leave of the world outside, pick up where I left off in that other world, the one under construction, my novel. Until that tweet — is it a bird outside? or that avatar of one, a widget? — beckons with its inimitable call: you could be missing something, a vital breadcrumb, follow the links — a breaking news story, a poem someone wants to share,  inside info in the world of publishing. Do I take a break, answer the call? Well maybe a few minutes. I’m stuck anyway, a roadblock. The only way to cut through is to go around.

So here I am, caught in the chatter, voices coming and going, ships passing in the night.  Until something nudges me back, a gentle wind steering me to a quieter shore.   I admit it, I’m deeply awed, sometimes overwhelmed, by the sheer volume of voices asking to be heard, noticed, maybe even acknowledged, mine just another. And I’m equally gratified by the way in which we find one another, like-minded souls who value what that mix of serendipity and searching brings forth.

The only question now is: Do I make the plunge into Facebook?