I’ve been cleaning my living room for almost three hours—vacuuming, dusting, cleaning behind the furniture. The only thing left is the blinds, and I just can’t.
I was hoping to, as I cleaned, get rid of some stuff: tchotchkes on the mantel, excess books, pillows, doodads and knickknacks, rocks, shells, bones. It’s this kind of artistic clutter that sometimes overloads my senses. I’m growing out of having so much stuff—at least philosophically.
And then I look around, and I can’t find a thing to do without. It seems silly to discard a rock with the word “serenity” carved into it when it’s literally the only thing I could live without. Yet serenity is the thing I’m trying to achieve!
Emotionally, my stuff holds sway. Today, I settle for the dust having been removed from the dust catchers and all the rest of the surfaces.
Maybe that’s why I so resent the Marie Kondos of the world. It’s not that they aren’t correct about getting rid of what doesn’t bring joy; it’s that so few things bring them joy.
I have an alabaster box from artist friend Mitch Gyson. Inside are my grandmother’s dentures, my daughter’s umbilical cord, and my wisdom teeth. Why does this bring me joy? I don’t know, but it does. (I’ve written about my “gross things box” before.) There’s a sculpture of a falconer from my mom’s partner Lenny, which looks remarkably like “L’Homme au doigt,” the pointing man, by Alberto Giacometti, 1947. Joy! There are carved wooden birds, gifts from friends; photos of my beloved and deceased dogs and cats, most of Beowulf, the standard-bearer; a pair of leather-and-feather crows; a wooden crow in cowboy boots; a knitted guitar pillow made for our daughter by a friend and neighbor; the last remaining copies of my poetry chapbook, BOYGIRLBOYGIRL, and the copy of my cake book in which I corrected all the typos; the last few items from my frog collection; a paperweight that belonged to my grandmother; knitting I started and never finished but which is so pretty I can’t rip it out; a hat box that held a gift from my sister and that makes the red chair and the red rug work in a brown room (it also hides a bunch of shit I meant to put away but is uncategorized). Joy, joy, joy!
Much of what is in the room is one of a kind. No one has my silver velvet sofa, which is about 20 years old, or my hand-carved rocking chair, which is uncomfortable but gorgeous, or my prototype tables with wood bloom, to which I added the stained-glass mosaic tops commissioned by my mother (who returned these to me when she redecorated), or the gorgeous art deco mirror of hers that I coveted, but which returns a terrifyingly distorted image. There are a dozen masks, some purchased in Venice, some bought in New York, some made by friends, some inherited. There are heirlooms and souvenirs and shows of affection and love, like the string of 7-up lights from my friend Aliza and the anniversary edition of my favorite book of poetry, Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems, a gift from my husband. There’s the dead crow my husband brought to show me one cold and lonesome February, which I had mounted.
One of my favorite things in the room (nothing beats the stuffed crow or the portrait of me as the crow queen made entirely from masking tape), though, is a mass-produced garden statue. I’ve used her in so many of my own photographs and made her a political prop, a token of love, and a symbol of serenity. Into the base is carved: “In the garden of your soul, plant kindness and simplicity.”
I’ve not been so successful with the latter, but the former? If the amount of love that is heaped on me (so much that I get a little something in my eye just thinking about it) is any indication, I must be doing that well.
We don’t do much “living” in this room. I suspect it’s like many of the living rooms across the country: a place where you plop down your more formal company. Marty finds the sofa uncomfortable and uses the room only to nap in my red leather, electric recliner. I sometimes watch TV or work from that chair, but it’s rare. Every now and then, I consider moving the furniture around or changing something about it or emptying it entirely and having tiny house concerts in it. Instead, I just give it a good cleaning and try to find something to throw away.