Sept Oct 2004

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September – October 2004

I need to edit my apartment. I’ve decided that’s the most productive way I can think of it. And it’s not a light copy edit, the clean, easy, do-as-I-go edit of The Obsessions of Yoyo Zaza; it’s the taxing, arduous, slash-and-burn edit of Swimming in the Ocean. Too much material, awkwardly compiled over too long a period. An editing nightmare.

This is the spring cleaning I didn’t do in the spring, the new year’s cleaning I didn’t do in the new year. It’s a combination of too many moves without enough time or energy in between to sort, compounded by eight years of sitting in the same apartment without enough time or energy to sort. I’m not looking forward to this. Can you tell?

The only time I’ve gotten the moving in thing right, was when I went to Ottawa. My first apartment there, I took a solid week to unpack and arrange, to really move in. I discovered that once my abode is properly moved into, I can maintain it with ease. But usually I don’t have the luxury of time to really move in; I certainly didn’t here and so, eight years later, I’m still finding boxes to unpack.

Why now? The primary motivation is that beginning in October, I’ll be conducting a series of creative writing workshops in my living room (see for details). That’s compounded by it being September. For the first time ever, I didn’t have a sudden strong urge to buy school supplies, but there is a sense of returning to some kind of order, some regularity. And it’s still further compounded by observing my octogenarian parents’ own sorting and culling process, watching my Dad wrestle with whether to keep or recycle his notes from a 1953 French class. I don’t want to be doing that at his age, but I know my packrat mentality has a genetic component, so it seems almost inevitable.

It’s not that I necessarily value all the stuff I collect. Some of it I obviously do, but most of it just follows me home or is the result of working on manuscripts (mine and other people’s). There are piles of paper everywhere and it takes time to decide what’s of current value. I can always think of a myriad of other things I’d rather be doing.

I don’t like living in this; entropy just seems to happen around me. I’m ashamed of the mess and don’t want anyone else to see it. If my friends sometimes wonder why they’re so rarely invited around, this is why. For some reason, my friends are all minimalist neat-freaks, fastidious organizers and cleaners. It makes me very self-conscious of my chaotic space. I am, at heart, a minimalist too, but I’ve never yet been able to achieve that state of grace in my surroundings. When I’m working intensely on a manuscript, my desk and chair become like a cockpit I climb into over a horseshoe-shaped pile of books and papers. Debris collects around me without my conscious recognition, dishes pile up in the sink, garbage cans overflow, cat hair dust bunnies openly parade across my floors. At some point I become aware of this, usually after the creative fervour runs its course, and it’s always a sudden perception, a rude awakening, accompanied by a sense of disgust.

Especially when I’m writing, I spend little time in my body; I become a thought with hands and eyes. But it goes beyond that. Generally I spend very little time in the physical and it’s only when I think of how others might perceive this mess that I become conscious of it. “Hell is other people.” It’s a very Sartrian moment. I live alone and that’s part of it too. If I shared space, I’d be chronically conscious of how others perceived it and would do my part to maintain it (unless, of course, I was in the throes of creative passion).

A few years ago, I also realized that beyond the time/energy excuse, the underlying stumbling block is a psychology of long-term poverty. I feel a need to hang onto whatever I have, because I can’t afford to replace it. I’ve tended to hoard stuff as a twisted kind of security blanket. Now for some things, small appliances for instance, that makes sense, but it makes none for the piles of paper and straightforward junk currently littering my abode. In the last few years, I’ve also become acutely aware of the need to make room for things. It’s difficult for positive, constructive change to muscle through the door when there’s a dusty box of papers blocking it. Energy stagnates and collects dust too if it isn’t properly cared for. Room must be made for the new.

As once suggested by my friend Spencer, perhaps I should consider a more William Morris approach: “Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.”

It’s been a difficult year, but I feel like a page is turning. Things are very busy, packed right now. It’s a transitional period. I can see in the next short while things will settle into a new pattern, still busy, but more clearly defined and simpler. I can feel a freshening breeze rising. I need to make space to breathe it in. It’s definitely time to edit my apartment.

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