Retrospective on a room
I’m moving into a new home for the 12th time since 1995.
This number seems totally ludicrous to me, but I’ve counted and recounted, and it’s true.
I relish neither the backaches nor sneezes attendant to the task, neither the painful exercise of individually forecasting the potential future use of a-thousand-and-one tiny unrelated things that are clearly no longer useful, nor the unsolicited trips down memory lane, which often prove heavier than a box of antique cast-iron cook-wear.
Books, records, torturously unwieldy desks and homebodies are meant to stay put, and I believe all of them will do just that for a good long spell after this move. When the boxes are put away and the moving is all said and done, I will be very happy and comfortable in my new home. Of that I am blissfully certain.
This is likely the last time I’ll write a column in the sun-room office I set up three years ago — a place where I’ve written every melody, lyric, query, reflection, rant, missive and meditation in that time. It has been a perfect place to daydream lazily, work fitfully and screw off habitually, and I’ll miss it very much.
Since middle school, when I started scratching out terrible poems at a wobbly desk in my bedroom, I’ve longed for a workspace that would suit me. Through the years, with every move, each room I’ve made for myself has been an incrementally more refined image of the Platonic form of “Office” that has persisted in my mind.
In this little tree-house of a room on the third floor of my building, I got it just about right.
With my feet on the radiator in this room, I’ve stared at the centurion pin oak outside my window and the gigantic ginkgo two doors down and considered how every fall, for the past hundred years, the ginkgo spontaneously and totally drops all its golden fans over the course of two or three days, a stained-glass window of a million tiny yellow pieces shattering and cascading noiselessly to the ground. And every year, the stolid pin oak holds on tightly, moving by degrees from green to crimson to brown, shelling horses and now cars with a lifetime of acorns, at last dropping brittle leaves to the pavement where they report back every footfall and every gust of wind in the gutter.
In this room, I finally weaned myself from my dogged dedication to the IBM Selectric II typewriter and began to write on Microsoft Word, which is an incredibly handy program. Ctrl X? Ctrl V? Hallelujah. While I’m still unsure whether the move from electric to electronic has been totally in my favor, both have proven to be a reprieve from a life sentence of illegible penmanship.
All of my plants have thrived in this room despite my dreadful and persistent neglect.
The sun has daily backlit the leaves of the onion plant, the artillery and asparagus ferns, the philodendron, the ficus my mom potted for me, and the shamrock that belonged to my grandmother, which is as tenacious and Irish as she was.
Here is the Bible placed by the Gideons and liberated by yours truly from a hotel in Michigan 20 years ago. Over there is the Webster’s second edition I saved up for and purchased at the used bookstore around the corner. Absent is the compact OED I’m still saving for. Everywhere there are scraps of paper, stacks of books, magazines, comics, photos, another CD, a bauble and a trinket whose values are unknown and will only be determined when they’re placed in either a moving box or a trash can in a week or so.
I’ve often wondered if the work-spaces I set up for myself become too important, and if I’m too much defined by the things I put in those spaces. While I am slightly mistrustful of the comfort I feel in surrounding myself with reminders of who I am, have been, and hope to be, that mistrust is increasingly buffered on every side by a satisfaction with a familiar place that is quiet, where things can be found, and where I’m comfortable. A place like this room.
I’ve got a new room to work in, and it’s blank-slate potential is both alluring and intimidating. It looks out over a garden and gets good light during the day. Who knows, maybe I could get some work done in there, too.