Thursday, July 19, 2012

Waiting For Something to Happen Gets Old

I can't be the first woman on the planet to decide that house-cleaning is a futile exercise. It is every bit as Sisyphean a task as pushing a boulder up a steep hill every day, only to have it roll down as soon as you reach the top, before you have even finished wiping the grit off your palms. I was raised by a mother who kept a pretty faultless house, and she made it look easy. Perhaps this was helped by the fact that she had four kids. Each fall and spring we deep cleaned every niche and corner. We moved furniture, washed the wooden floors, washed the walls and the woodwork and windows and curtains. The shower doors and all wood were scrubbed with vinegar, and between that association and my years spent working in photographic darkrooms by the hour, the smell of vinegar--or glacial acetic acid--is a pleasant one to me, the way that some people like the smell of gasoline, or cow or horse manure. 

Even when I moved out of my parent's house, Saturday was about housecleaning. I spent hours with rubber gloves and a can of Comet, a duster and the vacuum and a spray bottle of Windex, a wad of clean paper towels stuck in my back pocket. I knew how to make my own fun. I always had the bizarre thought that if I were ever murdered at home on a Sunday, at least the police would have the perfect environment to look for fingerprints. But for me, an orderly house is about comfort. It is about safety and security, nesting and what the Danes call "hyggelig," or cozy, snug. My home is shelter from the world. If my home is in chaos, so is my heart and mind.

As we plan our move to the U.K. this summer, the whole process for the last two months has been about being up in the air and uncertain, the opposite, in fact, of hyggelig. I am a planner, a list maker and ticker of boxes as tasks are fulfilled. Yet I have had such conflicting information about which visa to apply for, what documentation is required to apply for any of the various visas, and who to ask for that documentation. An email to my host university takes more than a week to produce information, and the days slide by, one after the other, without any progress being made. An email to the UK Border Authority comes back with the reply, "Sorry, but we are not allowed to give advice about visas." The visa specialist who is supposed to be "helping" me through the process tells me one thing one week, and something different the next, and I don't know which bit of information is right. This is an exercise in frustration. I am the kind of person who makes a decision and is ready to go, standing at the door with my shoes on, my purse over my shoulder, and keys in hand, like a dog who hears the leash jingle.

Instead, we don't yet know if we are able to leave Tucson at the end of July--in twelve days--or if it will be at the end of August. We don't know whether to have the blow-out killer yard sale next weekend, only to find ourselves sitting on packing boxes and eating off paper plates for another month, or to wait. Buy plane tickets, or no? Tell our landlord this is finally it, or not quite? 

And it is too hot to make much of an effort, or for very long. It is a Sonoran desert summer during a time when extreme drought covers more than sixty per cent of the country. There may be no water falling from the sky, but sweat rolls off us with the least exertion. 

In the meantime, in half-hearted, dispirited bursts, we sort and pack, increment by increment. I don't want to pack away our wedding photos yet, or my pictures of my mother. But family heirlooms have been wound around tight with miles of bubble wrap, and put into the boxes that are stacked against the wall in our bedroom. In the living room, empty boxes are piled at the ready, folded into shape and their bottoms taped, or flattened and stored against the walls. The entranceway has doubled paper bags full of books earmarked for a trip to the used bookstore, or the hospice where Mom died and I was desperately grateful for something mindless and distracting to read. There are half-filled packages to mail. Videotape-sized mailing boxes that I keep putting out for the trash, and my husband keeps rescuing. An empty bread-machine box with "MOVING SALE" taped to its side.

Every object in my studio, which I sorted a month ago for a yard sale, is tagged with labels and prices. I type in the middle of a retail store of used goods, many of which I really don't want to part with. They are worth so little to anyone else, but precious to me. I have to part with my sewing machines, my felting machine, my boxes of wool and buttons and ribbons and supplies and tools. It would be less painful make a swift, brutal decision and watch these things go out the door, but to sit among them day after day is discouraging.

So it has come to the point where I no longer care to push the rock uphill. I see no point in straightening up the living room each day just so I can sit on a neat couch, surrounded by boxes and my husband's tools and a shelves full of things waiting for a yard sale that never happens. It will look like this again by evening. No point in making the bed. It will look like this again tomorrow morning. No point in rinsing the dishes that are stacked in the sink and loading them in the dishwasher. More dishes will replace them. Why wipe down the counters when in an hour one of us will come in and cut bread for a sandwich, and then walk away? I've scrubbed splatters of curry sauce off of the stove so many times, that I just can't be bothered anymore. I'll clean them when we leave.

Just give me a quiet corner with a good book, some knitting and weaving, a blank book and a pencil, and let me get lost in a different place and time, in a world where chaos is resolved in two-hundred pages, or I can make something of beauty and utility out of nothing, something that will last. Give me my corner where I can watch hawks float above our little canyon, and listen to Bud the Colorado River Toad sing songs of romance at night. Give me some news. Give me some resolution.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What a Long, Strange Trip It's Been

It has always been either one of my worst--or one of my best--characteristics, that throughout my life, every now and again I get a wild hair up my snout and decide to turn my world upside down. This was easier to accomplish when I was younger. In October of 1980, at twenty-two, all my worldly goods could fit into my beige '62 Beetle, Ophelia. Back then I could pack up and drive across the continental US from upstate New York to Berkeley via Phoenix with just a pair of finches in a bamboo cage, strapped into the passenger seat to keep me company.

I look at my travel diary from that trip and wonder if Bert and Louise Stegerman still run the Howard Hughes Motor Lodge in Greenfield, Indiana--but I suspect they don't--and wonder, also, if it is still as difficult to find ladies' sanitary items in the stores of Greenfield as it was on that apparently desperate afternoon nearly thirty-two years ago. I hope it is not.

I later moved to Tucson on a similar whim, started cosmetology school likewise, married a man I met through friends on the internet, started our own business, and, finally, went back to college at age fifty. Did I have a moment's trepidation before doing any of these things? A speck of time and a whiff of insight when I thought, Gee, what if this won't be as easy as I imagine? What if I hate the weather in Tucson, develop asthma because of my years of exposure to the chemicals used in cosmetology, which causes us to have to close our salon, and college in my fifties is rather stressful? (Note there are no doubts about the marriage or the husband.) Would I have done any of these things if I known?

I used to experience what I call Blinding Flashes of the Obvious: those moments when, like Wile E. Coyote, I understand I have stepped over the edge of the cliff, and I look into the camera with a thought bubble that reads, "Uh-oh!" I experienced this my first time snow skiing in high-school, when I realized: "Hey. Wait just one second. Here I am, whizzing down an icy hill with two boards strapped to my feet, and only these sticks with which to control my headlong, precipitous flight." This was just before I plowed face-first through the snow fence at the bottom of the hill, unstrapped and unbuckled myself, and told my friends, "I'll meet you in the lodge when you're finished."

Or the time a few years later, that last, green August before I left New York, when I was water skiing like a pro my first day out, enjoying the summer day, the sunshine, and the wonder of being me, before thinking, "Hey. Wait just one second. Here I am, standing on a board on the surface of a seemingly bottomless, black, cold lake (a lake probably fraught with long-necked reptilian monsters and the decaying bodies of other hapless water skiers of years past). I'm holding onto a rope, the other end of which is attached to a boat driven by an un-sober maniac, and flying across the lake at dangerous speeds." Needless to say, I don't rock-climb, sky-dive, travel by bus in third world countries, or eat ethnic foods.

I thought the sleepless nights and the zombie days of owning our own business had finally taught me not to leap into anything with thoughts of, "What the heck, other people do this all the time!" I thought I realized, at last, that I'm not like those people. I don't have the temperament or the intestinal fortitude to sleep three hours a night and run a Fortune 500 company brilliantly, or do brain surgery, or hold political office. My speed is slow, and usually couch-bound.

Yet here I've done it again. Here my husband and I are, about to set forth on another adventure of my devising. This fall, my penultimate semester in college, we plan to sell nearly everything we have, store the rest, and take off for Norwich, England, where I will do a semester abroad (wait until they see what their exchange has brought them. Do they send two twenty-seven year olds to take my place?) at the University of East Anglia. On the way we will stop in my hometown of Hyde Park, New York, so I can do research for my Honors thesis (oh, yeah, did I mention I thought I should take on an Honors program? Hmmm, I thought not).

Follow our adventures as we make our way east and north, to places where the overnight temperature dips below eighty degrees Fahrenheit, trees are more than overgrown shrubs, rain is not a spectator sport, and the architecture is more than ten years old. I have no clue what will happen. I suspect it won't always be as easy as I thought it would be. But I do know it's going to be an amazing ride.