For the past few days, I’ve felt an urge to “do things around the house” after smoking. This is somewhat out of character for me. I’m not a “messy” person, per se — at least not in a way that ever bothered me. But I’ve over-corrected, maybe, steered closer to messy than was necessary. It’s long been known among my family and siblings that my father is a bit of a “clean” freak, cleaning his house daily as if by ritual. As a teenager, this ritual seemed to be an absurd or at least wildly exasperating “event” always going on around me — and never with any tasks that I could perform sufficiently, in light of his exacting, idiosyncratic standards. We used to get in each other’s way a bit as a result. I’d be watching TV with friends after school and he’d force us all out of the room so he could vacuum. Once I moved out and we were no longer living under the same roof, we were able to laugh and joke about it. But when I was a teenager, it drove me nuts. A friend’s parents had a sign hanging in the living room of their home stating, “A clean house is a sign of a life misspent.” Something of that sentiment was agreed to by Sarah and I, and as a modus operandi, it’s worked well for us. As I prepare to become a father myself, however, I find myself asking the old questions anew.
I set to work reorganizing my office into a sanctum. I handle old books, rearrange them in space. I eye the parts of the space, asking each object that my attention happens upon how it might give me joy. I peek through piles of paper. I pretend to think for a moment in character as a “life coach.” “What do I want with this stuff?” I ask myself while staring at the contents of a tall metal filing cabinet, each hanging folder neatly labeled, organized mostly in accord with topics I studied in grad school. Much of it seems distant and dated: political pamphlets, neighborhood bulletins. Paper-media objects of the past. How much of it is worth holding onto? At the very least, the file cabinet tells a story: eyeing a drawer’s contents, one moves from dissertation chapters and professors’ comments to a final folder (the only one with which I interact anymore) overflowing with bills. That’s why I took to climbing Mystic Mountain. Yet now I’m here, sitting beside a spider on my front stoop at dusk, watching it weave its web. I sit awed by all the little live things, all my kind, beautiful companions, breathing, centering, seeking to do well by all.