June 22, 2013

Agatha Christie lamented in her Autobiography the unfortunate position a person can be in when they enjoy Things, enjoy collecting and having Things – what some Philistines these days might call hoarders – but when said person's parents were also collectors and then they end up with a houseful of stuff already, and no room to add their own. 

As I sit in Corporate Coffee Shop, a lady across the room is working with a surgical clamp on a doll and I'm intrigued. Of course, a twitterpated girl of about 18 is sitting between me and that woman, so I'm both irritated and concerned that I'm going to look like a lecher. But, I want to see what she's doing. Not the girl; she's clearly leaning in, talking to her boyfriend and she's young and blond and happy and good for her. But, she's also in the way. The woman, who is about 50 years old, with a pink sleeveless shirt white shorts and reading glasses, is what I want to see. A minute ago the doll was cut in half at the waist and my artist friend was working on her. Now the torso is complete and she's connecting an arm. It seems that there is rope inside the doll that she's clamping onto. Or she put that rope in there for her own purposes. Now she's had to enlist her husband who is across the room with ear buds in – like me – and reading his Nook. (The younger generation can kiss our grits.) It seems that she needed a man's strength to pull the rope in order to accomplish what she's working on. Whatever it was, he made quick work of it. Now the artist is back in her seat talking with who appears to be the owner of the doll. The doll's dress is back on and the woman is pulling her little panties up with her thumbs while she talks. I could not be more happy that I chose this day and time to come get a cup of coffee, and happily the younger generation is bored and moving on – and out of the way. 

This actually ties in to my point. The apparent owner of the doll is probably in her fifties as well and she needs a doll like she needs a hole in the head. (Ever since a friend's father had a hole cut into his head to relieve pressure from fluid build–up on the brain I've felt a tinge of guilt for using that phrase.) The owner is sporting a pink bejeweled baseball cap and even the doll is dressed in pink. Okay, maybe all this pink is beside the point. But, the owner, looking at her pink smart phone, is probably showing the artist pictures of other dolls that she has. She enjoys them. People want to declutter their lives, but there's no point in being sterile.

I would like to point out that I had a friend, who has now gone to meet her maker, who was a true hoarder. She was an artist – a potter. She made the tiniest little pots, some of them no more than 2 inches high. She threw them on a potter's wheel and glazed them, fired them using the Raku method, and sold them. People all over the country and beyond collected her pots. She had a degree in geology and chemistry and she had a 5,000 square foot studio that was completely full of stuff. This is what I'm told the square footage was; I never measured. It was big. And, there was a pathway to get to her work area where she threw  and glazed tiny little pots. Racks of drying pots, racks of pots in bisque. Those things were necessary. Even the stacks of newspaper were necessary because she used them in the firing. The other 99% of the space was filled with unrelated, yet interesting stuff. A Tiffany lamp was in there. Things that she had hauled out of dumpsters. She had a collection of interesting bottles and antique doorknobs. Hell, when she was getting to the end of her life I helped clean out the place; I was there and I don't even remember what was in that studio. They had a long dumpster that they filled three times. A friend of hers came down from New York to help in the effort and he had a train car – literally – filled up and shipped back to his home. She probably had a quarter of a million dollars worth of semi-precious and precious gems that she had collected through the years, her Private Collection. She would show it to us and she remembered each one, when she got it and why.

My point is, having stuff helped her creatively. Yes, she went overboard but there was a grain of truth beneath it all. Lost amongst the clutter, but it was there. Having interesting things around her, finding and collecting interesting things, helped her creative spirit. And she could produce some work; she made hundreds of pots every month. She experimented with new things. So what if she did dumpster dive sometimes? Her work was all the reason and/or justification needed. I will admit that when she got sick and we had to go help her clean it out because she was physically unable, it was a little embarrassing. But, had she continued to live and produce artwork it would have been justified.

Like Mrs. Christie, though, she inherited a collection as well. Her mother was also a hoarder – from what I understand from my friend, herself – and already had a house and attic full of stuff when she (her mother) passed and she (my friend) took the house. The house was the same as the studio, if not worse. There was less space; the house had rooms where the studio was one open space. But, there were paths to the living room furniture and to the bed and to the bathroom. When they were cleaning out the house they discovered a sofa in one of the rooms, buried and hidden underneath a room full of stuff. The room was filled right up to the door. Ask her about it, though, and she would say that she didn't have time to go through it all. She had to work too much on her artwork and she didn't have time to go through each and every thing in the house like would be required. 

I will say for her that there was no decaying organic matter around. She did have the requisite clowter of cats, but they were all tame and friendly. She cleaned litter boxes and kept the food in order. She made it a point to keep the animals in line, whereas she didn't put so much thought into the rest of it.

Perhaps I'm justifying a bad habit. Perhaps I'm enabling some poor person out there who is struggling with an inner need to have stuff piled from floor to ceiling in every room of the house. That is not my intention. There is a step from collecting to hoarding. When you are a hoarder you have lost control and begin to rationalize completely irrational behavior. Make excuses. Deny. But, a collector of things is not wrong. If it helps that person's creativity or simply makes them happy, then that's all the justification that's needed. Where is the line? I don't know. I enjoy going to thrift stores, so I'm probably not the best judge. I can say from experience, though, that I can feel a difference psychologically when things are in control and I can walk through the apartment unhindered. I'm happier and more at home when things are clear and organized than when half a room is taken up with boxes. So, I think the line is in there somewhere. When one truly forgets what it's like to feel comfortable in their own home and has to start tuning the stuff out, when the stuff is no longer fun to look at, then it's becoming a problem. (Clearly if there is a health hazard going on because of rotten food and/or feral cats in the house then that step has been taken quite some time back.)

The ladies are getting up to leave. The artist is gathering her spool of rope and her pink tool box and her husband gets up to follow her to their car. I want to know these people. I was tempted to go give her my card and let her interest be piqued by bemol Ardiente. But I restrain myself. Like Agatha Christie said, sometimes people can be better characters in your mind if you don't actually get to know them. They can be what you imagine them to be. These women are creative and enjoy things. The one enjoys collecting dolls, the other enjoys repairing them. They both have an inordinate fondness for the color pink, but that's a different story for a different time. For now, they are for me what a happy, creative person is: working, enjoying the things that they find interesting and enjoying each other's company.

Now, off to the thrift stores with Nameless. Have you ever been to Top Drawer on Burnet Rd? You've GOT to go!

More later,

e A r n i e

The Room

February 12, 2012

I’ve been in my current apartment for about a year an a half. It is a two bedroom apartment and one bedroom is almost half filled with boxes that I haven’t done anything with. At first it was a matter of “I’ll get to them soon.” Then it was “I have unpacked what I need and that’s what’s important.” Now it has become a monster that haunts me.

This story has many levels. First of all, I’m not a hoarder, but I am a pack-rat. So, I have stuff. Everybody in America has stuff. It’s what we do. Imagine the stuff they have in Europe. They’ve been there for thousands of years, not just hundreds. Those attics must be full of pieces of furniture that are hundreds of years old, but that they just can’t bring themselves to part with. Crowns from wardrobes long since removed, doors from buffets. Me? I just have boxes of things that are mostly useful, if I would just sit down and use them.

For instance, I could put some things on my walls. I have one picture hung. That’s it. I have many framed pictures, wrapped in newspapers in boxes along with other pieces of art. I will say for myself that I did unpack a lot of ceramic art and put it on shelves. And, my bookcases look nice… two of them anyway. The one in The Room still needs attention. I can’t get to it at the moment, though. I mean, I literally cannot get to it because of the boxes that are stacked in front of it.

So, what’s going on? I just can’t face it. It’s that simple. It’s like mail. A couple of months ago I overcame my phobia of checking the mail. I think that taking small steps is healthy, as long as I keep taking those small steps. Now that I have begun checking the mail, I need to do something with that mail. I remember there was, when I was growing up, a table by our door that had stacks and stacks of old mail. My dad’s truck had mail completely covering the dashboard and the passenger seat and the floorboard. I’m not trying to slander my father, but I do remember those stacks and my fear of them is one of the things that contributed to my fear of checking the mail. Not checking the mail leads to the post office thinking you’ve moved without telling them and they start returning your mail and soon the companies you do business with start asking what’s going on and then you start saying thing like, “I have no idea why the post office would send my mail back to you marked ‘No forwarding address on file’”, which is a lie and lies only compound themselves and soon you begin to look and feel like the true hoarders and alcoholics who lie and make excuses to justify their behavior while hiding bottles of vodka in the toilet cistern and/or unopened boxes of things they’ve ordered online in closets.

I could come out and say it. I’m a mess. There, I just did. The problem is it’s not cute. When a twenty-something thin blond female says that she’s a mess it’s adorable. When a 40-something, balding overweight single man says it, it’s pathetic. That’s just how I feel about it. When I was a twenty-something thin gay man it would have been adorable as well; I just didn’t realize it at the time.

Recently I got a little sick. I think it was allergies – a really bad case of allergies that kept me in bed for two days. This was the Thursday before Christmas and I was supposed to go to San Antonio on Friday to be with my family. On Thursday I didn’t leave work early because I had gone the entire year without taking any sick time and I wasn’t going to blow it 4 working days before the end of the year. That’s not to say that I was the most productive person that day, but I was there. Friday I got up and was getting ready to go to Boerne to pick up my dad and take him to my sister’s house in San Antonio. I was moving slower than usual, but I was moving. Then I had to sit down and rest just a bit before I took off. Somewhere around 10 AM I realized that I wasn’t going to make it, so I called my sister and she sent her husband – who is just the most awesome person alive – to pick up my dad. (The fact that he drove to Boerne to pick my dad up says a lot about how awesome my brother-in-law is.)

The point of this rambling story is that I stayed in bed all afternoon Thursday after work and then all day Friday and it was WONDERFUL. I read Agatha Christie mystery novels and I slept. I got up every once in a while to get water or soup. My cat, Anastasia, laid right beside me the whole time, just purring away to have me in bed so much. We were a happy house. I repeated this on the day after New Year’s Day and I’m not sure that I was even sick. I think I just wanted to stay in bed all day long and that’s just what I did. I went through many mystery novels during that time. (I choose mystery novels at these times because they’re light reading and don’t take a lot of thought. Notice that I didn’t say Kathy Reichs mystery novels.)

All of this is not getting my second bedroom emptied of boxes, though, nor is it getting anything on my walls. I was looking forward to living on my own so that I could arrange things my way and have fun doing it, and so far I haven’t done very much of it at all. Plus, those boxes are truly becoming the fodder of nightmares and bouts of depression. After a while a person will just lay in bed, immobilized by the pressure of it all.

Another trick is to leave the house. Last weekend I was going to work on that room and then suddenly, inexplicably, I had the Very Urgent Need to have a pouch to keep my rosary in. (That rosary is a story in and of itself.) Obviously I can’t put my attention on the project at hand until I’ve taken care to make sure that my prayer beads are in a pouch and not just thrown carelessly into a drawer of my nightstand or a pocket of my messenger bag. Then, somehow, that trip to find a pouch ended up taking all day and then it was time to go to bed and the next day was Sunday and I spent it with friends and then I was back to work and who could possibly address an issue of this magnitude on a work day?

So, now I’ve decided to address my spare bedroom the same way I would address an overwhelming issue at work. People say that it’s not good to take your work home with you, but if I spent my time at home the way I spend it at work I wouldn’t have issues like this. Somehow I’m very efficient, dedicated and thorough at work. It’s home that I don’t want to face. So, I’m facing it as if it were somebody else’s issue and suddenly it’s become an issue that it much less daunting. I don’t want to jinx myself, because I haven’t actually cleaned out the room or opened all of the boxes. But, I did empty one and peak into some of the others and I think that if I just make piles of like things then it will help 500%. (The boxes were packed rather hastily while I was at work by my ex-roommate who was inordinately anxious to have me out of his home.) So, I stopped to breathe. I stopped to write this down. I stopped to have a salted caramel mocha latte at Starbucks. (I actually was dreaming yesterday morning about a caramel coffee beverage before I woke up.) Now, I sit here at Starbucks and I think I’m ready to face the bedroom that has taken on dungeon characteristics in my mind.

Who knows what I could accomplish next?