This Writer’s Life
Cleaning Ahead of the Storm
This morning I went out to fill the bird feeder. This is one of my Sunday obligations, a promise to myself to care for the sparrows upon whom the Lord’s gaze rests.
I stepped out into a swampy, steaming mess of heavy humid air: the atmospheric moisture that will fuel the severe thunderstorms predicted for us in the next few hours. Maybe damaging winds, maybe hail the size of golf balls.
After the week of deadly, damaging winter storms and power outages, now we get this.
But if you had stepped out into the yard with me this morning, you might have felt as I did: please, bring on the storms. Anything to clear out this suffocating humidity. Seventy degrees in February sounds nice — but not if every breath feels like you are underwater.
All right, Texas. Queue up the dry line, the cold front, the squall line — whatever it is this time. Bring it on, bring it through, get us to the other side.
Easy to say. But we have had hail damage to our home to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars before, and if the storms deliver that to us again, I won’t like the other side any better than this side.
Severe weather leaves a mess in its wake.
But what if things are already a mess? What if things are cluttered and busted and trashed before the storm arrives?
Things have been cluttered and busted and trashed for a lot of us since last March. We “pivoted” online, but the turning radius of our lives was bigger than the space we had to spare. We had whole rooms of our homes and apartments — the places we return to when the work is done — taken over by work, by multiple jobs, by overlapping obligations. Living rooms or family rooms or kitchens or dens became classrooms where we Zoom with students AND where our children go to school AND where our partner works remotely AND where we record our course material.
So much crowded into these spaces, and all of us together, and what we want is room. We want one another’s presence — we have learned that since the pandemic has kept us from seeing loved ones and gathering with friends — but we want room. We want to reclaim the spaces in our lives for their intended purposes. Let our dining room be for entertaining again, not for storing the contents of our offices. Let our study be for reading and writing again, not for an ad hoc recording studio. Let our kitchen table be for meals again, and not for the second-grade classroom and the seventh-grade classroom and the conference room where we work with colleagues to prepare the quarterly report.
The storm of Covid quarantine has made a mess, a literal mess, in our homes. And clearing out the debris while the storm is still raging seems somewhat akin to shoveling the walk while it’s still snowing. We keep things navigable — barely — but we are moving through straitened days.
But today I am straightening.
The single benefit (so far) of being fired from my teaching job is that I am no longer obliged to maintain a ready recording studio in my study. No more ring lights and power strips and books stacked high to bring my laptop camera to eye level. All of that can go. No more hand-held dry erase board and markers at the ready to draw diagrams or write out vocabulary words. No more printed out student directories on the corner of the desk, just in case the power or the wifi goes out, and I have to contact students with instructions or course updates.
My study does not have to be a classroom any more. I don’t have to keep virtual office hours any more. The same storm that blew away my job and my salary blew away some of my most oppressive environmental circumstances.
So this morning I have been cleaning. My study is my own again. My desk is cleared of everything but my writing slope, my fountain pens, my book stand, and my Moleskine journals.
The rest of my house, like the rest of my life, is a bit of a mess. And depending on the whims of the weather barreling down upon us now, both house and life could get a lot more messy yet. By nightfall, the study I have just now reclaimed may be filled with broken, soggy, shattered things.
But for now, it is once again my own space, the room of my own, the clean-well lighted place where I wait for the words, the ones I plan to keep.