Clutter

I’m riding sideways on the A train, stuck on a single line of song I keep listening to, drinking a beautiful cup of coffee. The train car is close to empty. I consider pulling out my broken ipod to hear that one line that’s grazing my thoughts, but a slow, hot sip of coffee causes my eyes to close. Simplicity is key. I’ll tend to the ear worm later.

Sometimes it’s nice to let someone else drive the train.

I’m trying to de-clutter my apartment, which is an ongoing battle, as some of my friends and neighbors can attest to. As soon as I move something out, two more things inevitably move in.

Last night, I attacked my bookcase.

Over the years, I’ve given away most of my books. The diaspora has now trickled to a slow whittling of the few tomes that are left. I can’t seem to part with my card counting books or my battered and bruised copy of Don Quixote, but I did, finally, throw out my journals. They’ve followed me from state to state, apartment to apartment since 1992.

It was hard to toss the records of memories and fears and feelings. My history as told by me, as if any number of anyones would stop to listen.

I leafed through them before I put them in the trash pile. I skimmed a few pages filled with old infatuations and dramas about work. I read about my dreams and fantasies and plans and schemes – some of them started, a few of them finished, many of them dead the moment ink hit paper.

I found a list of wishes written in the first pages of 1994, when I moved to the city and roomed with a music copyist and his dog that looked like a pig. It was a comprehensive list. Career, love, health, spirit, home… at least four pages long.

I wished to know one thing from the past. I had a boyfriend I loved very much, but I didn’t know how to say it at the time and I was scared. I regretted how treated him. He never told me he loved me, though a mutual friend suspected it was so, but late at night, when I was on the cusp of sleep, he would whisper in my ear. Every morning when I woke up, I remembered the whispering, but I never remembered what he said. In the list, I wished that I would one day know what those secrets were and if he had ever, even for a moment, loved me.

Some of the wishes from the list came true. Most of them didn’t. And I’m thankful for that, but the heartbreak written between the lines of the list was palpable. And now here I am, forty-two, living in cluttered apartment in a cluttered city with a seven pound dog who stares at me from my twelve year-old, broken down love seat while I write. I’ve been humbled into happy submission by a long string of failures and know, deep in my soul, that the real gift is the work. The faded memories crammed between worn down pages of a well-traveled notebook are not a ball and chain, and they’re not a safety-net. They don’t provide comfort or stability or love. They’re nothing but a paper-mache anchor thrown into the ocean.

I went for coffee with a friend and he told me a story about his ex-girlfriend and how they broke up. He admitted that he had made some mistakes in the relationship. They fought often and didn’t like each other. When they split up, he walked away and gave her everything they had together, and yet she wanted more. He was perplexed at how angry she was at him. And how angry she continues to be.

I was over-caffeinated in the moment and it occurred to me that, love or hate, she still wants a piece of him. And, if you can’t have the best of someone you want, you may as well have the worst. It’s a matter of ownership.

Ownership leads to clutter. Clutter leads to confusion. Confusion leads to more confusion. And then to more clutter. We blindly pick up all sorts of tools, pick axes and cranes and compasses we don’t know how to work, to search for our True North. Then, when it’s getting late, we might come across a cozy blanket and, tired from a long day’s work of trying to break through the high, thick walls blocking our view, we take nap. And when we wake up, we’re not any closer to finding our True North, but we feel a whole lot better where we are. So we stay, whatever it takes.

And so, what started as the wide, open, empty silence of love becomes a cluttered room with comfortable bedding, a ghetto couch, and twelve years worth of dust on the wall.

Off the subway, on the street, I pull out my broken ipod and find that song that’s stuck in my head. A sweet voice and a solo guitar simply state, “I’d rather see the world from a different angle/ we are everyday angels/ be careful with me/ ’cause I’d like to stay that way…”

And it occurs to me that all that stuff crammed into the room – it’s not baggage. It’s noise.

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