December 31, 2016

Cultivating Space in 2017

Our apartment has gotten messy over this past year. 

The mess is for all the right reasons. The cat's perching corner is crowded with holiday cards from our friends and family. My husband has gotten music and more music. I've gotten books and more books. For the first time, I have teaching files--notes, lecture, handouts--of substance and value. Instead of slim little volumes of poetry, I keep ordering big fat anthologies of essays. The stovetop is coated in a sheen of olive-oil grease, because we cook more days than not. I've learned to cook salmon on this stove. I've made many soups from scratch (and a few from Soupergirl). One of my Tampa colleagues came through town and we had a three-course meal, seated at my grandmother's newly inherited dining table, drinking bourbon late into the night. My grandfather's eye chart, from his days as a naval doctor, is framed and hung on the wall. I've hosted poets for workshop here. My book club meets here. The cat has torn the couch's every edge to shreds, which seems to give her all measures of joy. We have a tray of delicate shells out, harvested from the beaches of Sanibel Island in November and then Kauai in December. 

We always have a vase of fresh flowers by the kitchen sink. We have an air plant named Sangria that lives, persistently and in flagrant defiance of our travels. My in-laws sent us a bowl, which joins the collection of other ceramics in shades of moss and mint and dusk. My husband got two new jackets. I got a hat. We both bought shoes. 

We get the Sunday New York Times and the New Yorker and New York and Oxford American and Gluten-Free and More and Washingtonian and Poetry and American Poetry Review and another handful of literary journals, and we hesitate to send any of it out the door unread. Most of the time, we really do read most of it....eventually. (If you want a reminder of what I'll be doing New Year's Day, here it is.)

In other words, this is a mess of luxury, and I am grateful for that. But gosh, it's a mess. So I've bought ten new hangers--sturdy wooden ones--as an incentive to tackle these closets, and I'm going to dig out my battered copy of Apartment Therapy: The Eight-Step Home Cure from under the bed. I actually used to visit the "Apartment Therapy" website daily, when I had a desk job. We even lived in a building, The Ontario, that has been featured in several (check out our onetime neighbor Scott's place). But eventually the emphasis on "cures" that seemed premised on a large budget and specifically, home ownership--the bold paint colors, the built-in shelves, the wall-anchored lighting--made visits more depressing than inspiring. The toughest thing about city life, for all if its rewards an day particular love of being in Southwest, is wondering if I'll have to give up ever having that room of one's own that all writers (and yes, perhaps particularly, women writers) crave. The last time I undertook this kind of measured, serious consideration of getting an apartment in order, we moved only three months later. So part of moving forward is valuing the process, and not fixating on the results as permanent or even long-lasting.

I celebrate clutter because I come from a family that loves knickknacks, collections, souvenirs. We still trade stocking shipped to overflowing each Christmas. We use items as a way of safeguarding memory and showing consideration for one another. My mother's pantry still has a stockpile of Sandra-friendly foods, free of my allergens, that she always keep on hand in duplicate in case they were ever discontinued. 

Yet I celebrate spaces that are bared, minimal, cleared. I crave them. Having every available space stuffed to the gills--even when a room is quirky, cleverly decorated, squared away neatly--makes me sad in some way I can't fully articulate. I'll try: I believe that unless your household showcases at least some empty spaces, you're not showing the universe that there is an room for new things to come into your life. An empty bowl or shelf is not a barren space so much as waiting opportunity. 

2016 was not a year of questions, not answers; what answers we did receive were, as a larger culture, pretty hard to absorb. I'm not prioritizing the decluttering of a home as a bulwark to avoid the much tougher challenges of supporting my communities, advocating for those who face oppression from even our very own government, and pushing for change. But I'm saying that we all need to tend our gardens, if we want the crops to thrive. Sometimes that means hunkering down in the soil (or in our case, the jute dust and cat hair) and getting to work. There's no way around it. 

But with that work, I create space. Into that space, I keep writing. See you in 2017.

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