tidying

Biltmore Estate - Library of Congress

There’s a block in my chest, a lump in my throat, a cog in my wheel.

It could be because I ask so much of myself. Not only to be present and efficient at work and at home, but to squeeze in the odd ten minutes during downtimes to write (I am writing this at work now, at a stopping point in my paperwork).

Sometimes I feel bad that I do no other writing besides the writing on this website.  I thought it seemed so pedestrian; shouldn’t I have another dedicated time for more formal writing? Who am I fooling, thinking that this humble place could be the springboard for anything other than self-reflexive, mentally masturbatory drivel? Huh? Who do you think you are, punk?

Sorry. That was the voice inside my head again. No, not the tiny, gnome like editor who eats ham sandwiches, this was the darker one. I call her The Swallower, because she eats my muse whole with mean-tempered thoughts. She takes words out of my mouth. She is made of dirt and dust and her fingernails are black. If you don’t kill her quick, she turns into a dragon, and she blows your house down.

Luckily, it’s very easy to get rid of her. Just like clapping will revive fairies, writing kills my anti-fairy, The Swallower. The writing doesn’t have to be good. It just has to be there. She’s already retreated into the shadows; she knows where she’s not wanted.

She had a hold of my throat for a long time, though. She squeezed with her tiny, talon-like hands until all that was left were my neuroses. In the early years of my sobriety, I was lucky to write once a week, or even once a month. I read more than I wrote back then. In fact, reading is still my all-consuming obsession. Bury me in books, and I’ll be happy. But back then I was lucky to sweep the floor and wear clean clothes. I was lucky that I had my husband (then live-in boyfriend), to keep me happy and peaceful most of the time. So what if we played the Sims more than we created art together then? We had all the time in the world, so put in season 2 of Buffy and let’s not leave the apartment until Monday, or when we run out of cigarettes and coffee, whichever comes first.

Things change. We moved to where the land wasn’t flat. I became pregnant. Birth reminded us that there is impermanence and permanence and suddenly our souls woke up.

I wrote. He started to take beautiful pictures and attacked his day job (director of photography for tv/video) with new fervor.  I wrote. I held our baby boy, sang him songs, and the colors became vivid again, just like they were when I was little. The bad parts of my life, the sad parts and the rough patches, crumbled to dust when he was born. I had him young. I found my huckleberry young, married young, and grew up young. This is my order of doing things.

I used to be a maid, well before Xander was born. It’s a good job for the newly sober or the clinically depressed and getting well (or both, as I was), if you can get past the scrubbing toilets part. I found it calming and peaceful to walk into houses that weren’t mine, to see the pictures on their wall, and to feel the way their carpet sank beneath my stocking feet (I usually vacuumed in my socks, no sense dragging in the dirt and mud from the outside into someone’s sanctuary). I think the time spent in other people’s homes, in caring for their pretty nests, partly shaped how I describe what I see in writing. I didn’t have to talk to anyone. I didn’t have to think much. I just had to tidy up, sweep away, and listen intently. The houses were as cold and quiet as tombs. The owners were usually not home, or they shut themselves away in another room so that I could finish quickly. For a voyeur of the everyday life of others, it was at times like heaven.

Sometimes I was ashamed to be a maid.  Once, a former benefactress saw me in my maid service tshirt and dirty khaki shorts, while I was buying coffee and a pastry in a tony sort of grocery store near my apartment. She had been someone I knew when I was heavily involved in local theatre, a founder of the arts organization that fostered a legion of young creatives in my mid-sized Ohio town. After we embraced (she had a loaf of crusty bread in her hands, and a cloth bag lumpy with oranges, apples, grapes, and a bottle of wine), she looked into my eyes and said in her gorgeously lilting South African accent, “Stop doing this, Chrissy. Do something better with your life than being a maid to wealthy people. You’re too beautiful and too bright.”

I wasn’t too beautiful, and I didn’t feel all that bright. There were prettier girls than me who worked at the same cleaning company, and I told her so. I said it was honest work to do in the summers , and that I was planning on going back to school in the fall (I didn’t). She shook her head, her reddish brown hair tumbling over her broad shoulders, and pulled me closer to her chest before patting my shoulder, saying Ciao, and leaving the store with her bread, fruit, and wine. She was one of the few women in my life that was taller than me, and my head always rested right above her breasts when pulled me to her.

This woman, this lovely woman, had lost her only son to suicide when he was only seventeen. This happened shortly before we started rehearsals for one of the plays her organization put on, and the news hit the young cast like a wrecking ball. Her eyes had always seemed sad to us, because they were so round and brown, but after Lorenzo died it felt like they took on all the hurt in the world. How could she have anything left in her to give to us? How could she go on? We understood the pain of the young, because we were young. Some of us had tried to leave the earth early, and some of us had daily thoughts of floating away. This is the curse of the sensitive young.

But she stayed with us. She brought us roses on our opening nights and she showered us with her fierce, relentless form of love.

Oh Suzy, I haven’t thought of her in so long. I wonder if she’s still living? Sad part of getting older. The pillars and the rocks of our youths become historical landmarks, Roman ruins. They stay in our minds as clear as museum pieces, but we can’t touch their skin anymore. Maybe we can again one day.

I don’t feel bad about only writing here now. This post was actually written in a word document; I’ve always liked the flow of a nice word document as diving board. Anaïs Nin’s work was all born out of her diaries, did you know? All of her poems and her novels sprung out the pages like tiny Aphrodites, exploding into the world out of her daily thoughts and recollections. She wrote in leather volumes, and then typed them up neatly. An assistant typed much of her words down as well; Anaïs was born wealthy of course and had the home and means to gather a flock around her.

The parts she liked she read to Henry Miller, when he visited her at home. What an initial audience for a writer’s work! Lucky Anaïs.

And lucky me, to have you.

Postscript ~ Suzy is still alive and well. Oh, the healing balm of google. 

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11 thoughts on “tidying

  1. Gosh, the writing here is amazing, Chrissy! Love your description of the Swallower–especially the dirty fingernail detail. And as someone who got by for years cleaning other people’s houses, I adore your description of that work! Wow. I’m honored to be part of your audience, my friend. Honored!
    Hugs,
    Kathy

  2. We all have stories, don’t we? We all have stories of birth and rebirth, of pain and of depression and tolerance and self-forgiveness and hope and healing. Your story is beautiful and you write it so well.
    Whatever writing you do is okay, don’t you think? I do.
    Open your throat. Let it out.

  3. Beautiful writing. There is such a sense of truth, grit, struggle and redemption in your writing. We all have some version of “The Swallower,” so glad you’ve found that words help you stifle its hold on you!

  4. Yeah, girl. You started a little bit of writing, and look what poured out.

    It helps me to think of my blog as my sketchbook. Almost all of my poems start there….I take them out and fiddle with them sometimes, but mostly begin there. The typing helps me feel like it is more formal, somehow….

  5. That’s absolutely the way I see it. I also see a permanence, and an immediate audience. The pieces don’t stay locked in a cupboard, but are available to share right away.

"... all my lovers were there with me, all my past and futures."

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