Living Remnants: or why I’m not (really) blogging about de-cluttering

Feb Break Sat 2015 073In my teenage years I used to retort “I’m not really reading” when my disciplined and cultured mother would say “Either light a lamp or get out of that dark corner with that book.” And now, confronting the reality of usable space in the house, of my aging joints,  of my available time, etc. etc. I’ve embarked on downsizing my decades-old pile of papers, fabric, toys and clothes. Naturally, a perky cartoon figure of the mind pipes up and inquires “Why don’t you blog about it?” The following are my retorts to it:

1. The temptation to fib is enormous.

2. My house will still look cluttered by anyone else’s standard when I am through. It is a workshop and library, not just a place to park myself at the end of the day-job day.

3. My job as a teacher, and the rest of life, will not allow me to work continuously on the project, though I do chip away at it daily.

4. What I keep and what I let go of may make no sense to anyone else–here is where the writing comes in, little scribbles of conjecture and command to keep myself going. Notes and hand-drawn charts are my handrail up this slippery slope.  I’ve lived in a dozen places–my things, my insensible things, are my roots.  (Sorry explanation, of course.) My books I won’t even explain past saying that I’d have to be near one of a limited number of large university libraries to have access to similar things. I’ve given up my old plan to make patchwork quilts or collages out of every scrap (what can I say?– I was a stay-at-home parent/ artist), but the principle of eking the story out of what’s left remains.

A winter-break (our strange February holiday, for non-New-Englanders) exchange with teenager is to the point here:

Young Person: These night gowns are really gross. The front of this one is all gray. And this one is just a rag.
Me: The color supposed to be lavender. Knit fabrics don’t keep very well. Those are nightgowns from when you were born. I cut off that one because it was comfortable but I wanted to wear pajamas with it. We used the bottom half for cleaning rags.
Young Person: Well, maybe you should keep one then–if they’re historic.
Me: Nah. They really need to go.
Young Person: Then go write 500 words about them.
Me: OK. This is very appropriate use of your innate bossiness.

And really, folks,the textile me says:  cotton knits are comfy because they are light and stretchy like skin. Ironing them to interfacing and making quilts out of them is the most perverse craft idea I ever heard of! Do you preserve the skins of every chicken or fish you’ve eaten? No matter how clean your t-shirts and knit gowns are when you put them away, they get to smelling like dirty socks when they are stored in boxes.  I think they preserve some essence of your life and activities–and why not? They are the last step before nudity for most of us. You can bleach them and sun them, but then they fall apart even faster.  Think of knit cottons as clean bandages and not clothing, a daily bit of textile life that will not get woven into the tapestry of the ages except as a scent or an idea. And that leaves me here:  I have to take the wild chance that I will remember my strapping young roommate as a bald-headed wriggling baby in my arms in that wee rented house of yore, or I won’t. (She had her own knit cottons, of course, but she grew out of them in such record time that those tiny shirts and onesies were worn by several other babies afterwards.) I will remember my mother indulging me with nightgowns in my favorite colors, or I won’t.  I will remember my father–the grandfather of big-headed newborn–ordering me and baby off the thick futon on the floor so it could go on the wooden frame, or I won’t. My memories themselves, written or pictured, will become someone else’s clutter.  Digitizing them to get them off the floor is not good enough, as it turns out.  (See http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/feb/13/google-boss-warns-forgotten-century-email-photos-vint-cerf).

I also just ripped up into dust rags the handwoven purple striped tablecloth that faded in the Banaras sun on my little study table; I took notes on the arcane poetry that was the subject of my doctoral dissertation while sweating into it. All that truly feels like another life, but of course those times made me a different person for the rest of my life. The strictness and chaos of that ancient pilgrim town layered with squawkingly aggressive commercialism, the unknown sea of “dissertation” that I had innocently waded into, both colored and hardened me, the me that is now sitting in this chair typing in a break between the snowstorms of this winter in Maine. The light lines through the deep, muddy purple of my tablecloth were like lines in a notebook.  The fabric is so weakened now that even gripping one edge in my teeth ripped out tiny patches.  The tougher red border tore off as one long piece which I’ve offered to my spouse as a rag for trombone neti. Relatives still living in South Asia are so pragmatically used to this process that instead of trying to save old curtains and spreads “for the memories”, they give them away or rip them up with alacrity. Only fancy clothes are sometimes saved for future generations.

4. I no longer WANT anyone’s opinion on what to keep and what to give away. Even my friends have been frequently in the wrong on this score. My mother possibly understands my immigrant’s aesthetic ties to Indian fabric, and but what about the *American* things? Having been through historical and geographical upheavals herself, she understands the need to preserve, but maybe she doesn’t even know what’s in my college notebook boxes…although I think she has a trunkful of wonder-struck and sophomoric letters I sent her back then, written in immaturely slanting longhand on lined paper.

5. The word “chuck” indicates waste to me. I certainly take part in our insane consumption, but it’s always made me nervous. Recycle, repurpose, donate to the right group: that’s where I want to be active. “Trade” and “sell” have not worked out very well since we seem to live on an elliptically looping minor planet at the edge of the universe. Give, give, give–that really is the cure for “keep, keep, keep”. “I kept it for you” is a good silent explanation when I hand someone something I’ve kept for years–the words often turn out to be genuine in an unexpected way. Why else would I have sewing patterns in sizes that don’t fit me (or now) anyone else in the immediate family? Heart-shaped plastic beads? Needlepoint needles with deliberately flattened tips?

Brewing a Few Aphorisms

20140608-084108-31268293.jpgMug drinkers like most Americans, we’ve taken to drinking tea out of teacups lately.  Certain old teacups surfaced in the household after years of being shunted around in well-packed boxes from one branch of the family to another.  With these daintily molded porcelain shells unpacked and in hand, we don’t necessarily drink less in the long run– the teapot is right in front of us and we greedily pour out more, especially of that potent loose-leaf black tea– but a scenario results that is different from the one in which a preoccupied family member fills up a big mug in the kitchen and wanders off.

Proper teacups have a matching saucer to place  underneath to catch the drips; my fourteen-year old, who wouldn’t use actual glass tumblers until she was ten for fear of dropping them, appreciates this.  I appreciate it because in haste for my morning sip, I often daub my shirt front with tell-tale brown–the saucer makes you more aware, and safer.  It takes two hands to handle a cup and saucer, and frankly, we need that kind of forced focus.

In Bengali and Hindi (and Persian, where we got the word), the word for cup is peyala/pyala, which neatly segues with the word’s pre-European meaning of a shallow bowl from which to drink wine.   In a poetic moment with your local artsy teenager, you could slurp the cooled slops from the saucer below (pirich in Bangla, from Portuguese) and declare, “Oh, good, I can have every last drop!” –acting slightly intoxicated with the very fact of living.  The hidden didactic then points to the utter irrelevance of alcohol in such a moment.

The humble tea-saucer suggests all kinds of offerings: hospitable, worshipful, charitable and amorous; from my childhood in West Bengal, I have an indelible image of one person holding a saucer to someone else’s lip so they can drink–that someone else being either too young, too ill, or otherwise too feeble to help themselves to fluids.  When you’re no longer inured to its use, a teacup seems to be about delicacy, but not the pretentiously frail sort of BBC costume -drama cliche.  In real life, drinking out of little cups does make you contemplate the little bit of the earth’s largesse allowed you at that minute.  Drinking from tea cups has come to mean pausing for a little while to relax or socialize, and the small measure of time is as significant as the small amount of fluid.  It takes you well away from the mug idea.

Now, what is the mug idea?  Mugs are useful. Mugs belong in workshops and working offices, so you don’t have to run back and forth to the kitchen or the corner hob to get more.   Mugs mean going on with work, or attending to each other or oneself with such intensity that social niceties such as tipping a teapot with a faintly rattling lid would be a noxious interruption.  I’m chatting with you in my floppiest sweater and neither one of us wants to get up to pour more.  Or, we’re thirsty and cold and need to chug a large amount of hot stuff before we get ill.   “Hold on, I’ll get you another mug of x”–this means your friend’s situation is truly a crisis, and might result in someone leaving school or changing jobs.  The mug idea seems to be catching on in other countries–why? Is the dual ideal of relaxed living and grunting hard work of (for instance) finishing those actuarial tables, spreading?  The little teacup seems to require more alacrity than the absent-minded mug, and its idea of comfort is a little more ceremonial and admonitory.  Do I go too far in thinking that tea in teacups has to do with solvable problems?  The tea in “tea and sympathy” implies that the problem seems large only to one of the party, and after dabbing his or her eye and sighing a bit, that party will resolve to do the sensible thing by the last sip.

So having built my edifice of sand on the theory of small teacups versus hefty mugs, I have to admit that lately I have spied Indians, West Indians,  and Brits on film drinking from LARGE teacups.  This is upsetting my whole scheme of tea moments I had neatly arranged in my mind like baby, mamma, and papa bears.  Yes, a larger teacup  (but  a teacup nevertheless, ornamented with those rapturous roses or blue and gold edging lines) could mean a longer moment to sip, to gaze, to chat quietly.  You’d have to sit down to drink a LARGE cup, and you’d be lolling restfully like the scrubbed-clean shepherds drawn on them.  A large teacup is honest refreshment after work, like a pint, but also its opposite.  If *I* grabbed a large teacup in the kitchen, it would still mean that I was shuffling off to some corner to read or scribble or grade papers or sigh as I gazed out the window.  It wouldn’t mean sitting with anyone, or pausing.  It would mean having to go on, feebly or doggedly.  It would still require more consciousness than the mug though–the mug is a dog that follows you and waits, and the large teacup is a cat that sits on the page you want to write on.

Red Buttons

DSC_0042It was a crackling cold day outside, and inside the partitioned hangar of the junk store, I felt woozy from fatigue, caffeine and the space-port feeling (“Loading buses for Planet Q”)  shed by ranks and ranks of blueish neon tube lighting high up in the metal rafters. My serious work–finding a few hand-me-down letter trays and storage racks for my 10th grade English classroom–was done. Then I noticed a jar and several tiny drawers full of old buttons on a metal shelf.  Nothing I needed for school, certainly, and I had been doing a little better giving away junk rather than collecting it. . . but, buttons that have lasted through the wear and tear, washing, and finally, separation from the clothes they held on long-grown or long-gone bodies deserve a look.  Besides, even if one were to acquire a few, they wouldn’t take up so much room. I decided that as far away from home as I was, a few minutes of indulgence would not cause a complete collapse of the known universe. 

I began to notice in the brown- and white-flecked jumble of the jar a number of jostling reds calling out, their gloss slightly, poignantly, dulled by decades-old grime. Most vintage things in stores are pretty picked over these days, so someone like me with no spare time usually does not stumble upon lucky finds.  Some of the wee denizens in this partly sorted (someone had begun and also given up) stash were clearly more than fifty years old.  I would allow myself to touch.  I set my bags down and told the cashier lady that I was going to take a bit of time now–she could hold my other stuff if she needed to.

I got stuck–I mean time stood still and my afternoon fatigue was either suspended or it actually helped me to forget about the rest of the afternoon’s obligations.  I began picking the tiny things out one at a time, and setting aside the less interesting “modern” shirt buttons, predictable pink pearly swirl sweater buttons etc. I woozily swerved into an uncharacteristically simple decision to collect the old red ones.  I could almost hear my mother’s voice telling me that red was always the most cheerful color, a fact inescapable in this warehouse chock-full of somewhat worn and shabby things.  I was middle-aged now, so my youthful scorn of a color so basic and popular as red was finally gone.  Red was now the joy in the midst of practical drabs, of hard-bitten workaday blacks.  I no longer saw red as gaudy and suspect, i.e. the color of self-advertisement, as I had in my cynical decades.  So my fists were filling up with little red plastic raspberries, jewels, and swirls, when the cashier lady decided something too, and offered me a plastic baggie for me to collect my treasures in.  I kept picking out red ones until I had picked through all the buttons the store had–the deep red of un-self-conscious yesteryear, with a few green ones thrown in–yes, we were coming up on Christmas and I was giving in to all kinds of traditional compulsions I usually resist. The  snub rounded shapes tended to fly out of my winter-chapped fingers, and so I started making tiny piles of the buttons I was “still thinking about” on the edge of the metal shelf that was the small stage for my small drama of impulse. I could swear I recognized some of the cake-like shapes from coats and pants my brother and I had worn as children, rather long ago.  I could remember the roughness of plaid wool, of thick corduroy–the lower tech fabrics that we still wore in the colder months in the 1960’s, mingled with exciting new nylon jackets with zippers.  I could remember being an actual child (before my young-Turk cynicism came to roost on the family’s shoulder like a brooding vulture) and cherishing those few bright red things we owned–skirts, book satchels, sweaters–as life rafts of sartorial confidence, brazen boldness!  Red buttons and red piping could exalt a plain white blouse or dress into a beloved favorite. My then-little brother considered red his special property too–no one would get a red car or a red pencil away from him.  (Even as an adult, hasn’t he had some red cars??)

Then I poked around in the little drawers on the thrift shop shelf–meant for nails and screws, or alternately, cufflinks?–where the unknown organizer had indulged in some mysterious classifying and picked out some of the larger and distinguished blue or brown buttons.  I believed some of them would cost as much as a quarter, so I tried to be thrifty!  I muttered something to the cash lady about the “creative clothing”  I made when I can steal a couple of hours. I use the phrase to prepare people for the colors and fabrics I combine.  With kind incredulity, she declared “You’ll have to show me one of those things next time!”

It’s nice to think that the possibility of cutting and sewing exists at all, after four pounds of English papers are graded, after the water for the chickpeas is measured and corrected, after homework completing, vitamin gulping and boot-wiping are supervised, and after the cat who just won’t listen has been cleaned up after; but even then, I’d probably just gaze at my bagful of old buttons for a while, reliving the sensations and associations that each one evokes, and not just jump into a new sewing project.  But look at the photo, such as it is:  can’t you see the ebullience amid the practical simplicity that red buttons still suggest?

Coconut Oil Thermometer

The original name of this blog, Waterchili, came from the frozen green chilis we keep on ice to add to our cooking.  To keep with the transported-tropical-produce theme, let me note how a jar of coconut oil in our kitchen serves as a sharply accurate marker for the seasons.  I am surprised that the appropriate technology people haven’t made an actual oil thermometer–but perhaps they don’t need to.  People who keep jars or bottles or cans of coconut oil in their house as a regular thing would notice on their own how attuned it is to the temperature.

Even up here in the North of the Northern USA, our household uses coconut oil as a hair and head conditioner (though some people cook with it too) the way that traditional South Asians do.  You get it into a liquid state and rub it through your scalp and thirsty remnants of a mane before you bathe.  Shampoo and hot water wash out the excess, leaving your hair soft and your scalp more soothed than it might be otherwise.  Never mind that for a while my provocatively original 13 year old was applying it to her dripping locks AFTER taking a shower–one of the several notable instances of members of my extended family applying printed advice in unprecedented and impractical ways.  For South Asians, hair oil also has all kinds of mental health connotations, and is supposed to help preserve your hair as you age.  Coconut oil is mixed into fancier hair condiments in South Asia–ones with fragrance and color and poetic names–which will register the cooling of the season with their own uncooperative partial solidification, but these patent mixtures do not (perhaps deliberately) have the spot-on temperature honesty of pure coconut oil. Around here, we need to melt out the little bit we use each time; that is why we keep it in the kitchen.  Besides, my nervous sandwich-generation imagination can too easily see the glass jar slipping from young or elderly hands and smashing to bits on the hard tile floor of the bathroom; shards of glass lined with white fat just wouldn’t have the charm of the broken coconut fragments, white fruit lining the hairy and hard brown shell pieces, that were childhood treats on our West Bengal veranda.

This little story of the coconut oil thermometer really began one morning in June,  when we noticed a jar of straw-yellow liquid on the kitchen counter.  Around our devil’s workshop of a house, I keep everything from colored glass bangles to dried chrysanthemum flowers in old spaghetti sauce jars.  These jars are so handy, in their wide-mouthed, measured-capacity ways.  Nevertheless, I, who can sniff the difference between two year old ground cumin and coriander–when to most other people both resemble aged sawdust– jumped in slight alarm at the pale translucency in the clean jar and asked my husband What’s that?  Leftover wine? Kerosene? Less pleasant substances had also streaked through my mind just then.  He didn’t know either, but after our tea and coffee we finally realized that the intractable white solid that we occasionally dug at, and had to microwave or heat in a saucepan to thaw during most of the year, had liquefied completely overnight due to the short and furious Maine summer finally arriving at our typically un-air-conditioned house.

All summer my daughter (the hair-aficionado, or -nada) and I poured spoonfuls on our head directly from the jar, reveling in the ease of application after the jabbing and scraping that just about made us give up the stuff in colder months.  Friends as we are with the people who cut our hair, we could only get them to nod sympathetically, as if at two permanently confused and inarticulate people, when we described our own hot-oil treatment to them while they worked on our respectively salt-and-pepper and richly auburn-brown heads.

Suddenly, two days ago, the first cool breeze of September blew back to front through our cluttered house, and the next morning part of the coconut oil was white again.  I said, We could use this as a thermometer.  Panting in the car on the way home from work in late afternoon Portland traffic, I could not imagine my kitchen as a cool place, but I guess it had been all day:  this afternoon even more of it was white and solid, leaving just a sneaky smile of liquid yellowish oil in the middle layer.  Not just a thermometer–this jar could serve as a calendar too!  I called my spouse and he said It’s supposed to go up into the 80’s again; let’s see what it’s going to do.

If the stuff melts, which it might not for a brief quirk of weather, I’ll get my paint-splattered shorts out again (the pair that got left on the deck railing for a week one summer and was thus three shades lighter on the outside than inside) and go for a walk around the neighborhood in my flip flops, denying the inevitable even as my bag of schoolwork to grade gets heavier by the day.  The coconut fat did partially become oil again, but only on one side of the jar, as if to keep its slippery feet firmly planted in seasonal reality.

_____

I am finally posting this on an early October day when sweaters have begun to come out of their shady summer hiding places and it is out of the question for even the teenager to go out in flip flops.  In fact, gathering cold-season supplies from various malls this weekend, we noticed a bizarre wall hanging on sale:  painted tin flip flops nailed to a rectangular panel, an object that I’m willing to bet no full-time tropical person would actually decorate their wall with. Meanwhile, our coconut oil pet is sitting tight in its jar, creamy white and stubborn.  The heat coming on in the house might make it manageable for cosmetological purposes, but liquid oil? It won’t be that until the awe-inspiring movements of the solar system bring us around to June again.

Sitting in the Dark

One evening in July somewhere in Maine, my spouse wouldn’t wait until morning to look at the creaking, shuddering, fan/light assembly hanging over the dining room table and he turned off the electricity.  Now our dining room was too hot to sit in, and our aging brown wicker-patterned friend–its perpetual summer circling arrested–needed some tinkering with. Actually, I got my valiant spouseto turn the whole house’s electricity off so he wouldn’t hurt himself; he often rushes into the home maintenance jobs he loves because he has so little time after commuting and working.  Not endowed with feline vision, I decided to stay out of the way and seize the opportunity for a bit of rest.  Lying on the sofa during our own little load-shedding (the term used in India for when the electricity goes off for a while because the supply cannot keep up with the demand) with my head towards the big living room window framing the fluttery tree, I noticed the pink edge of the sky you don’t see in our tree-laden suburban neighborhood unless you’re outside walking.  It came back to me that during my childhood in the arid little town of Hijli, in West Bengal not far from the Bihar border, my parents would let twilight grow through the house most evenings.  They wouldn’t turn the lights on right away, just to enjoy the gradual fading and displacement of the harsh sunlight of the day.  We would sit on the veranda or in the living room and just let it get darker and darker, chatting or playing.  Our street of small university houses was still surrounded by grazing fields for cows and goats and a palpable stock of uncanny quiet.  A car or jeep might go by once a week, and most movement was by foot, bicycle or cycle-rickshaw.  In the evening, the voices of passersby–families strolling together, or friends in ones and twos hailing us from the front gate–carried into the veranda of our little cement house with the smooth floors, or through the wide open living room windows, long before we could see them clearly.

This sitting around in the twilight was a less self-conscious form of relaxation than the fun activities we pitch ourselves into these days—bike rides, bookstore browses, and so on—because we are so aware of needing them.  When the lights finally came on in our Hijli house, it would have been for a 9 o clock supper, and it was always a blazing shock after the softening into the dark our eyes had enjoyed.  The idea then was to stay awake until the rice of our late meal was eaten, but I was a slow child, and mine would always get cold.

(July 2011/September 2012)

Them Bootsies

There is a horrid word advertisers are trying to make us say these days–“shooties”. “Little” or “ankle” boots wouldn’t do? But I suppose they assume that teens and 20-somethings have such a tenuous grip on the English language that you can convince them to say anything, especially if it’s the name of of something to place on one’s body.  Because, to utter that peculiar name while pointing at someone else wearing the item is important too.  “Oh my God, she wore her ______ to volleyball practice!”

A couple of years ago I stunned my fashion-conscious middle-schooler (she was then at the bossier end of the elementary grades) by showing her the ankle-high cowboy-boot-shoes I wore when living as a single professional in a state far to the south and west of here–in another life, really. “Whose are those?”–I’ve gotten used to this response to the few remnants of pre-motherhood still to be found in my closet. This week I gave my cowboy (cowgirl) ankle boots the final tryout–nope, my feet will never be that size again. A little due to rainstorm shrinkage on the boots themselves–the streets of that arid state really flow deep when a sudden thunderstorm comes–and a lot due to the burdens of childbearing and child-carrying, my feet are permanently bigger and flatter now.  There is no hope that I could even walk a few steps in these wishful allusions to (for me) an exotic lifestyle.

When I could wear them, so long ago, I loved them because they gave an edge–and a pointy toe–to my extremely bookish life.  The word “shooties” didn’t exist, thank ye gods, and if anyone had called them by that word, I’m sure I would have stopped wearing them that day, after retorting that, yes, they were cowboy boots of a sort but that the steel-capped beak did not, in fact, shoot bullets.  Except figurative ones at such awful little compromises.  You may be wearing part of a boot that might be warping your foot slightly, and enjoying it, but calling it by a name that tramples over the daily delights of language…makes my toes curl.

I Hate This Notebook

(revised from an earlier, secret, blog)

I hate this notebook. It’s fat, almost 2 inches thick. A little brown brick of paper and temptingly leathery binding material.  The first time I saw it in a big chain bookstore, in the self-indulgent “Journals & Blank Books” aisle, the price was marked at $10.  Our baby was new and we weren’t spending much on ourselves since I was staying home–with no salary–to look after her; I fondled the notebook, and thought, you could travel months without having to buy a new journal, you could go and go and go, if you had THIS.  500 pages!  Cool quadrille, like the paper my German friends cover with their spidery handwriting.  Never mind that I wasn’t going on any solo trips any time soon, and hardly had the chance to take a shower or comb my hair, let alone write 500 pages.  The most writing I had managed so far—and I felt gleeful about that–was sending emails with the baby on my shoulder.

Several years later, when the baby had become a child, I spied the same notebook, this time wrapped in cellophane, in another big chain bookstore, in another state far away; I thought, ok, this will be my souvenir from this road trip–notebooks often are, along with a couple of postcards I buy to keep for myself.  My long-held desire for a child had been fulfilled, and I bought the brick full of other big desires: to write all the time, to set down all the things I hadn’t taken the time to (did I have the time?) when my girl was a toddler. I thought, I’ll scribble and scribble and catch up.  It will hold lots, I’ll carry it everywhere…

But The Notebook, my brick, feels like it weighs about five pounds, and its dense, rounded, just-above-handbook size is a factor of its tumbling off your lap, out of your tote bag, and of its generally taxing waywardness.  I have wished many a time that I was a bigger, stronger, wider-shouldered person, all so I could use this notebook with ease and happiness.  I had just spent a couple of years lugging around a roly-poly baby who demanded to be held all the time; I could wrangle an 18 lb deaf cat into its hated pet taxi.  But this notebook was going to break my back, because I wanted to have it with me all the time, everywhere.  So I could become the Herculean writer I wanted to be.  At the beginning (and now, at the end, with only 8 pages to go), when you open the notebook, one side is thin and wimpy; you have to rest the remaining right-hand pages on another book to write on them.  In the middle of the journal (and oh what it takes to get there in one of these stubby contenders!), it won’t lay open.  It wants to close up sluggishly, mid-thought, like a brainless sea creature whose nerves are set off by drifting oceanic chemicals you can’t see.

Writing a LOT had been the initial idea with The Notebook, and cramming it, being economical with paper and copious with words.  When I began writing in it, I used each and every quadrille line and made myself a little blinder than I already am.  Then the light bulb went off and I began to skip a line, but I felt like a lavish and wasteful Big Capitalist, sure to be swallowed up when the earth turns in on itself like a dried stoneless peach.  (Where would thrifty recyclers, among whom the Aristotelian ideal of my soul dwells, be?  Sitting up there on the branches of the heavenly tree Yggdrasil looking down at me in their long, natural, green-cotton robes?  They would be barefoot of course, but their feet would be CLEAN.)

The brick notebook is filled now.  That feels strange to say.  It happened only a few days ago, in the interstices of the cataclysms of our moderately sized emotional world:   we finally decided to go abroad as a family, finally decided to get our little house painted to sell (we are do-it-yourselvers very reluctantly giving in to the realities of jobs dominating our lives and to our limited physical capacities), and monitored Hurricane Gustav as it passed over my parents’ Louisiana home.  I kept writing in the margins of the brick’s filled pages, trying to make sure it was “complete”.  How could it be?  It wasn’t a novel with a beginning, middle and end.  I at least wanted to write R. I. P. or Om at the end.  It just filled up, sitting on my big cluttered desk, like a stomach filling up with odds and ends rather than with one hefty meal.  Then the nervous ritual of searching for a new notebook to continue in began.  I decided it wouldn’t be a fancy new one, because writing is what I do every day and I didn’t want to encourage myself to be arch or prim or special about it.  I found a simple spiral school-supply notebook in my desk drawer at work, and put it in a macho black executive-looking cover to disguise it for day-job purposes.  Only a few entries in it so far, but one includes the words “this is the right kind of notebook to have–flat and wide”.