Night and day

I recently found my 100-page diary (titled Night and Day), which I maintained in a password-protected Word doc from the summer of 2006 to the summer of 2009. It’s solid-gold humiliation material. So much moony behavior; so deadly serious most of the time, too. I was very dramatic about boys, of course, and there was a lot of hyper-piety in there, too, along with some vapid musings about what I was reading and thinking about. It’s tremendously entertaining and it wants to make me bite all my nails off. 

Ten years hence, it is nice to be older, to be relatively self-aware. I no longer look at myself as this grandstanding literary heroine. I feel very subdued and normal and problematic. But I still wonder if I will feel a similar sense of shame when I am 38 and I stumble on this blog.

(Probably.)

Original 6
Original 6 with Scoop. (We have a habit of stealing neighbors’ dogs.)

My life is so good right now, and I wouldn’t change anything about its domestic arrangement, but I was thinking about how fun and lively it was when it was just the nuclear family: the four siblings and Mom and Dad, at home together all the time. We had a really good time together, the Original 6. We were noisy and all-consuming and imaginative. We spent a lot of time outdoors, and if we were indoors, we were dressing up in costumes and building sofa forts and Lego universes. Mom and Dad gave us this childhood that I recall as this unbroken reel of happiness. I shared a big bedroom (the Harem) with Kelsey and Grace during my last years at home, and it was the most fun and the most annoying all at once. We were always in each other’s business.

(I’ve been digitally archiving piles of family photos, and it’s making me feel nostalgic.)

This rush of nostalgia helps me understand, for the first time, how sad my family was when I went to college. Being the eldest, I was the first to go; I was elated and I couldn’t even fathom why they were so gloomy. But I understand a bit of it now. They weren’t going to miss me (I was a skinny tyrant) — they were mourning the loss of wholeness of the family.

It is necessary and good that children grow up and want to leave home. Can you imagine the hellishness if we all still lived with our parents and tried to replicate our childhood relationships with them and our siblings, forever? I recognize this fully. But I still like to indulge in that sweet sadness of remembering what was. It is good to remember and to be happy for what you shared together.

Farsons
Original 4 on Kelsey’s 9th birthday.

Lead me to water

Garden updates, 4 May 2015
Columbine in the front yard finally bloomed.

Some of our best friends in town are getting married tomorrow, and we are flush with excitement, almost as if we were getting married again. We are so happy for them and we have been anticipating this day for years now. Guion reported that when someone asked him to make plans this week, his first thought was, “Oh, I can’t do anything this week; it’s wedding week.”

Late April

One of my chief pleasures is eating lunch during the work week on the back deck, with the dogs milling around the yard and the carpenter bees and wasps congregating near the table. I think I have already written about this, but this practice provides my mental and emotional state with so much energy and relief. It is probably just the benefit of being outside, after four hours in a cube, staring at a screen, but my outdoor lunches can improve the gloomiest mood. I eat slowly; I drink a LaCroix; I read a novel; I throw a stick for Edie; I watch the chickens; I listen to the birds; I feel like a million bucks. (And then I go back to the office.)

We saw Sufjan play in Richmond this week (a moving, excellent show; I’m always in the mood for him). One of the memorable, nonmusical delights of the evening was spotting an old friend from college up in the balcony. We texted from afar, confirming our identities, and I waved repeatedly. We shouted to each other briefly, him from the balcony down to me in the orchestra level, but we weren’t able to meet up afterward. Still, just seeing him filled me with this satisfactory nostalgia. Here we are, after so much time has passed; happy and complete in our adult lives.

I keep a little notebook now, to ease myself back into the practice of keeping some form of a handwritten diary. After about 16 years of daily journaling, I abruptly stopped once I got married. It was as if keeping a diary wasn’t important anymore, now that I had a spouse — which admittedly is a very odd psychological conclusion. But I’d like to get back into the practice, if only to keep up the habit of composing sentences by hand. Even if they’re not very good sentences. The notebook is a hodgepodge of loose diary entries, vocabulary words, and notes on what I’m reading.

I am usually writing about what I am reading there, but I realized the other day that I am only taking notes on fiction. I mentioned this to an acquaintance, and he remarked that that was a very odd habit. “Why wouldn’t you take notes on nonfiction instead?” he asked. “To, you know, remember actual facts and information?” I didn’t have an answer then, but I think I record fiction passages and resultant thoughts because I am often so much more moved by a novel than by a factual account. I am impressed by the beauty, and that is the sensation I don’t want to forget. Data will ebb and flow. But it’s the art that’s worth remembering.

On the emotional effect of clutter

I love online shopping, but I’m really bad at it. I’m constantly buying clothes that fit me poorly, and because I’m often too lazy to deal with the hassle of returns, I stuff these garments in the back of my closet or in a dust-gathering bag that says “TO TAILOR.”

This year, I’m trying to commit to the “one in, one out” principle with my wardrobe. If I buy one new item, I have to donate or toss one old item. I’m getting addicted to this buoyant, weightless feeling of throwing things away, of making room, of seeing space recreated. (And, I also took two pants to the tailor this week. Little victory!)

210/366
Grace’s closet, circa July 2008. It still looks like this, even though she doesn’t live here anymore.

I’ve always loved throwing stuff away and then organizing the remainders. It’s a quality that Kelsey and I share with Mom. My mother is very organized and sensible about her purchases, and she rejects clutter in all forms. We elder sisters have adopted this lifestyle from her. Kelsey in particular keeps an immaculate, minimalist studio apartment that is just zen.

But we can also take it too far. For example, last year, Kels famously threw away all of her tax documents in one of her cleaning frenzies. (Grace, on the other hand, missed out on this tossing gene, and any space she inhabits looks like an art supplies store/Salvation Army exploded. See the photo of her childhood closet, above. She is the purest definition of an artistic pack-rat, and this drives the rest of us family women insane. Sharing a bathroom with her feels like sharing a bathroom with 100 bag ladies.)

As a girl, I was more nostalgic for my short life, and I saved everything, especially letters. I pined for the Austen-esque days of handwritten correspondence, so my nerdy girl friends and I wrote hundreds of letters to each other — even though many of us only lived a few miles apart. I had boxes upon boxes of letters about the most adorable, inane things. At the sage age of 12, we liked to write in a highfalutin style: “That boy is the most preposterous creature I have ever met in all of my existence!”

Work time. #calligraphyI kept all of these letters for years and years, stuffed under my childhood bed. But when we moved to our new house, I threw them all away (saving only letters from precious relatives, particularly my late Great Aunt Lib).

This seems harsh and heartless to many, I am sure, but I had to have a hard conversation with myself. What was I saving these letters for? I was never going to go back and read them. Did I think my future offspring would find them interesting? Hardly. Instead, these letters — albeit cute and nostalgia-inducing — were taking up valuable real estate in my home, and were weighing me down, a burden of clutter. I did not need to keep them. I still have the memories of how much joy those letters brought me and how delightful it was to write and receive creative, strange letters as a girl.

The simple truth? Clutter affects me emotionally.

Although I am not as pristine and spartan about my cleaning regimen as Kelsey (who is?), a cluttered home — particularly a cluttered kitchen — makes my brain feel disordered. As my eyes scan around our messy kitchen, I begin to feel unhinged, unsettled, uncertain. I have to take immediate action.

Devoted assistants
Man and dogs in kitchen.

Being in a cluttered space makes me feel breathless and anxious; I feel like my heart rate is rising. It’s really something of a personality weakness. Because, clearly, clutter does not bother some people at all, and I do not fault them for it; Grace, for example, thrives on clutter, as an artist. (And maybe “clutter” is a judgmental word for it? What could we call it? Piles? Of important but disordered stuff?)

I am not immune to clutter. There are plenty of pockets of clutter in my house. The console table in the dining room has a basket full of unsorted items. My closet is far from pristine. (I haven’t ironed a single thing in months.) And I don’t even attempt to deal with Guion’s various piles around the house; that is his emotional business, not mine.

And so I clean and organize my house — not because I feel like I have to, not because it makes me feel superior — but because it keeps me sane. I’m all for the preservation of sanity.

The unchanged kernel

Kathryn gets ready for her wedding
The dress is on!

(I don’t have a good photo to illustrate this thought, so here’s a photo of Kathryn in her perfect wedding dress. Isn’t it IDEAL for her? She looked so lovely.)

This past weekend, we traveled back to our homeland of sorts for my dear friend Kathryn’s wedding. The wedding reception was like a mini-college reunion, getting to see all of these people who composed my essential community for four years. I left the wedding feeling very content and fulfilled.

I was amazed at how much everyone had changed, how different we all are from the noxious freshmen who met at InterVarsity. Jonathan is so fit and handsome and his hair is long enough for a perfect top knot. Matt seemed taller, talked about his job with authority and expectation. Catherine and I had husbands with us. Anthony is in grad school in Georgia. Sheila is going to seminary in Colorado with her husband. Nick got a job at a prestigious law firm in Manhattan. And we were all there, watching our beloved Kathryn get married. Our meek freshman selves would barely recognize us now.

And yet. I was pleased to realize that, in everyone, there remained this essential, unchanged kernel of personality, the thing that attracted us all to each other in the first place. Matt still dances the same way. Jonathan is still the person you go to for a deep conversation–or to get your bowtie properly tied. Catherine is still quietly observant and yet full of a surprising, absurd humor.

We’ve all transformed drastically; we live in different states; some of us barely speak to one another anymore. But we were all there, for a few hours, happy and content, as if nothing had ever really changed.

Animal nostalgia

Yesterday I probably spent a good two hours researching small animals I could be allowed to own in our apartment. I love animals. Guion thinks I want a pet because I’m dissatisfied with our marriage, but that is not the case at all. This is how this conversation went last night. Not kidding:

G: Am I not enough for you? Is our marriage so terrible that you must get a pet to lavish your affection on instead?
A: No, no, no, stop being stupid. That’s not it at all. You know very well that I love animals. I love them! Not being able to have an animal is like me telling you that… that… you’re not allowed to listen to music anymore!
G: What? No. Terrible comparison. You looked at animal pictures all day, and now you want one. It would be like me sitting on the Internet all day and then insisting on having a concubine.
A: A CONCUBINE. Really. That’s the BEST analogy you can come up with!?
G: No. But I need an argument.

Whatever.

So, this is the list I came up with (with links to the cutest ones on the Interwebs, in case you don’t know what I’m talking about):

Holland lop rabbit
Budgie
Zebra finch
Betta fish (This is actually our own Saul Bellow, with Grace imitating him)

Hm. The very interesting thing about this list is the fact that these are all animals I owned when I was a child.

We had a darling dwarf Holland lop named Spencer; to this day, the four of us still swear that he knew how to play hide-and-seek with us.

I had two beautiful budgerigars named Monet and Renoir (I was a pretentious 12-year-old), who drove me crazy even though I had begged for them for my birthday. I prayed one night that they would die, and a week later, off went Renoir. Monet stuck it out for a few more months, until he died of a broken heart, I surmised. I still feel guilty about this.

Kelsey got a Zebra finch named Sprite for some reason or another. He also died rather ceremoniously: apparently got all puffed up one day after we got back from church and we literally watched him keel right over. Sad. We were not the best at keeping birds alive.

And that brings us to the betta ownership. I had one named Napoleon for a while, and now we have Saul Bellow, the sole survivor of my unethical idea for a party decoration (fish in giant glass vases on the table! With names of important 2009 celebrities!). He has grown to be quite handsome and Mother swears that he recognizes her when she walks in. We let her pretend this.

As far as dogs and cats are concerned, I just want another Australian Shepherd, like our gorgeous, highly intelligent and highly neurotic Emma. And I’m not even remotely interested in a cat. Why? Probably because I never had one growing up. Unjust, I know. But true.

So we stand at cross purposes. Guion really doesn’t want an animal in the house; I feel the desperate need for one. A rabbit is my top choice, but Guion insists that they smell (which is only partially true). We also don’t have a pleasant yard for it to graze in. A budgie was my next choice. They are clever and companionable and they like to be scratched and carried around on your finger. But they are messy. And occasionally loud.

I guess we’ll just get a betta then. Ho hum. At least it’s something alive.

Anyone else feel this way? Do you own the same animals you did as a child? Do you wish you had the same pets you did growing up? Am I the only one who lives in this dangerous state of animal nostalgia?