When we were at the height of nourishing the adolescent growth of our three boys, I had a sense that I was spending all my time procuring, cooking/baking, and serving food. As with their infant growth, I could predict that they would be hungry about every two hours and that I needed to arrange my life around their growling stomachs and frantic foraging. To save money while also providing them with the best opportunities for health and growth, I tried to find the best sources for raw ingredients and build meals from there, but the groceries line item was still at the top of our budget, ahead of our mortgage or rent. I like to work hard, and I especially like to work hard in the kitchen for my beloved people, but it still seemed that I must be doing something wrong, given the relentless high-speed treadmill I couldn’t seem to slow or stop—and then I had a glimpse into the work of a private chef. He was tasked with providing two meals a day, Monday through Friday, for a family similar in composition to my own; the family’s preferred menu was a meat-and-potatoes one, no fancy preparations or long ingredient lists. And it was his full-time job, 40+ hours per week. Oh! I had signed up for a Sunday through Saturday gig, three solid meals and three substantial snacks each day, and so no wonder. I settled into the required pace, until that particular course was run—and now an avocado sprinkled with dukkah and balsamic vinegar serves for lunch.
I need a similar shift in perspective on managing the flow of paperwork into—and please, at some point and how, exactly?!—out of our house. I didn’t realize how many hours a week I spent processing the incoming tides of announcements and forms until I stopped so that I can work on a PhD, which by most measures is a better use of my time. Further complicating the situation and destroying any approximation of balance is one, that R. and I have spent longer in this home than any other of our married lives, so we haven’t gone through the (painful, exhausting, relieving) shedding and reorganization process that a move requires/offers, and two, that our home is now the repository for all of my mother’s papers—from the meaningful to the mundane, and she saved it all—since her move to a care home. I’m so interested in the documentation of the ordinariness of life, and I have an academic background in researching and writing about these remains; this history and these impulses are not at all helpful for efficient processing of thousands of pages, hundreds of pounds. As one example: I found a tiny scrap that my grandmother cut out of a newspaper in 1941 and it contained a whole resonant world and of course I had to write a poem responding to it. As another example: a telegram my (childless) great-aunt received around the same time (and saved, obviously) that prompted my wonder and sympathies and tears. My friend Katie is a professional organizer—I can attest that her own calm space and full life reflect her advanced skills—and she asserts that we run into trouble with our stuff when we’re too much concerned with the past or the future instead of taking full advantage of living in the present. Absolutely, but— So that’s where I am, doggy paddling to keep my head above the flood, scouting the horizon for a dock.