Full disclosure: I am a recovering clutter monkey and my spouse is a clutter monkey in progress. As far as I know, there is no 12 step program for our kind, or at least there's no chapter around here. Still, the fact remains that along with our collections of favourite items (books, tools, coffee cups, etc.,) we tend to attract things like a magnet attracts metal and, once we get them, it's darn hard to shake the flotsam that shows up in our lives. While we've never (yet) been candidates for a reality television program, our house came closer to it than I'd like to admit this winter and I've spent the last month battling the "heaps o' stuff" back down. It's been a monster task but now that I've made some significant inroads, I'd like to share what I've learned.
- Start out with one clear space. I don't care where it is, clear out one area and keep that area clear. The sight of it will encourage you to tackle the next part of the mess meaning your clear area will eventually get wider. As long as you keep that first part clean, you know you've started on the right road.
- Take a big job in small increments. If your mess is like mine, you won't tame it all in one go. If like me, you have asthma, you can't. So work on it a bit at a time. Do what you can and sit down. When you get rested do a bit more. It's worth it.
- Find something to listen to while you work. No one says this out loud so I will: Housework Is Boring!!! One of the reason it's a hard job to pursue is because it's mind-numbingly dull and the TV and internet are great distractions. So find something to keep your ears and brain occupied while you work. You'll get a lot more done if you do. I can't speak for anyone else, but I like recorded books. Hang or carry your electronic distraction somewhere on your body, shove the earbuds into your ears and get going with your chore while your brain focuses on the audio you've got going.
God never meant me to cook. Oh, I can open a can with the best of them and I am the Rajah of re-heat but the culinary arts elude me. For the last couple of years, I have blamed Stove but the fact I am a mess in the kitchen.
For example, my battles with Stove. Stove is the built-in oven that came with the house in 1990. At first, he was respectable looking, shiny black in the front and stainless steel around the eyes. His oven temp knob only showed half the numbers but I could guess where the rest of them went. Then, one by one, his burner knobs disappeared, heading south for the winter, followed quickly by the replacement knobs. I learned to ignite the burners by wielding a pair of vice-grip pliers. Then the Stove's oven developed a Goldilocks complex, taking each dish and cooking it too much on one end while leaving the other end raw. I decided I didn’t like baking after all and began a serious friendship with my microwave. Finally, two of the four burners gave up the ghost and Roger and I gave in. Stove’s replacement should go in tomorrow.
In the meantime, my tiny kitchen skills dried up and atrophied. Since Rog is the most tolerant and self-reliant of spouses, this didn’t pose too much of a problem except for the occasional steak dinner. See, we both like steak and, short of publishing a run-away best-seller, we need to cook it at home if we want some disposable income. So, it was wonderful when the Grill moved in for the summer. Finally, we had a heating mechanism that could prepare a decent dinner.
Or so I thought. Somewhere along the way, I lost my fire-building skills as well and the darn charcoal wouldn’t stay lit. (Despite Rog’s affection for “King of the Hill” he refuses to consider a propane grill; charcoal is required for his taste.) After several wasted efforts that barely seared the sirloin, I decided the problem was in the fire; I’d placed the coals too far apart to burn. Shuffling around the food and the grill pieces gave me an opening to stoke up the fire and I dumped in more coals. Over this went half a can of lighter fluid. (I was through playing.) I flicked the charcoal lighter and the fire responded: SHOOOMP!!
It felt like a blast of hot wind on my face and, behind my glasses, I blinked. The grill was now an arsonist’s delight but the flames were far too high for cooking food. It took me another ten minutes to stabilise the fire, deploy the meat where it would cook and get back into the kitchen. Only then did I recognise the odour of burning hair.
Don’t ask me how but that inferno got underneath my specs and singed my bangs, my eyebrows and eyelashes. The damage isn’t too bad and a couple of showers got rid of the smell but I think I look kind of funny. My eyelashes are full length in the corners but they barely exist in front. In a way, Grill behaved like Stove. It barely touched the steak but incinerated my front lashes.
So that’s it, friends and neighbours. You are welcome to visit my house and if you want, we can chat out on the deck. We can even talk about grilling but you must do the cooking or I’m going out for burgers. It’s not that I’m inhospitable. I just want to keep the hair that I have left.
Why Richard III matters
England buried a king today with a fair amount of pomp and circumstance. Except for the fact his body was found underneath a parking lot, this doesn’t make a lot of sense to many Americans. After all, the man died more than five centuries ago, right? And, if Americans remember Richard II at all, he’s the "big bad" in one of Shakespeare’s plays. So, why should anyone care? It’s important, not because he was king but because Richard of Gloucester is finally getting the respect he deserved. He died before America was a country, died even before Columbus landed in the new world, but the ceremony now is relevant. Richard’s life and death saw enough media and scandal to fit in with the modern world.
Picture a political power struggle between rival wings of a huge family, the Lancasters and the Plantagenets. (Imagine the Kennedys and the Bushes are related and you’ll have it.) At the heart of their fight is the wealth and strength of a nation and both factions claim the prize. Only male children born to married couples can inherit the crown although ancestors have muddied the list of eligibles by adding in children who were born illegitimate. To most of England, this is a political dispute but to factions of the family, it’s war: Each side has murdered members of the other and they act, not only to secure the crown but to protect themselves from future attack.
Out of this morass steps Edward IV and his younger brother, Richard. Edward is, in many ways, amazing. He’s a skilled tactician and soldier, shrewd and attractive, and charismatic leader to boot. He becomes King at 19, having survived the war that killed his father, uncle and elder brother and once he’s on the throne, he’s a pragmatic ruler but Edward’s personal life is a problem. These days, they might call him a sex addict or predator but then he was a King whose interest in the ladies sometimes affected his job. For example, Edward was expected to choose a wife that would stabilise his government, bring more assets to England and give him heirs to the throne, usually a foreign princess. Not until his ambassadors started negotiating with candidates did Edward admit he was already married, to the widow of a Lancastrian enemies! Elizabeth Woodville brought two children from her first marriage and a flock of scheming relatives who grabbed all the power Edward decided to give them. This meant Edward became the balance wheel that keeps England’s government running and this crashes down at his death.
When Edward died at forty, his twelve-year-old son was far too young to rule. That meant a regent to rule the boy, and, by extension, the kingdom. Edward specified in his will that his younger brother, Richard should act in this capacity until the prince is old enough to rule. Richard has a reputation as a disciplined, loyal, no-nonsense administrator who couldn’t be persuaded as easily as Edward. The Queen’s Lancastrian family knows Richard will shut down their gravy train if the Edward’s will is followed and they try to take control of the government and Edward’s son. Richard knows the Queen’s family won’t allow him to exist if they succeed so he hollers for help, regains custody of his nephew and stops the rebellion before it starts. The Queen goes into hiding.
The Coronation of Edward V is well into preparation when a clergyman got word to Richard. It seems Edward IV had a habit of quickie weddings. Edward was engaged to Eleanor Talbot before he married Elizabeth Woodville, which makes (under the law at that time) the second marriage bigamous and Elizabeth’s children illegitimate. As long as Ed the IV was king, the priest had no need to spill the beans but in the face of the crown going to an illegitimate minor, he had to speak. Now the burden fell on Richard.
Richard had only two options: ignore the priest and the law so the crown goes to his nephew and hope he can get the kid to like him before the boy grows up (remember, the boy grew up surrounded by his mother’s relatives while Richard was in the North) or follow the law and ask Parliament to declare him king. Parliament passed a Bill of Attainer disinheriting the boys and Richard took the throne. The boy and his younger brother moved into the Tower of London, a royal residence at the time.
Richard’s reign was not long or happy though there were some brighter spots. A man Richard trusted with his family’s safety betrayed him. A rebellion from the Lancaster family got started, though Richard managed to shut that down. Edward’s Queen finally decided he was all right and came out of hiding. She wrote one of the rebellious sons to come home; Richard would treat him fairly. Richard’s Parliament did pass some good laws affecting the poor. Still, Richard’s son died the following year and his wife the year after that. Rumours started to fly that Richard would marry his niece and he had to deal with that. Then in the summer of 1485, a second rebellion started, this time headed by one of the Lancastrian cousins, Henry Tudor. Richard went out to fight again, supported by the forces of Thomas Stanley, who was Henry Tudor’s step-dad. When Richard’s forces got into trouble, Stanley held back and Richard died, stabbed to death by his enemies. Then the real hatchet job began.
While Edward had tried to end the feud with marriage and Richard with fair dealing, Henry finished the argument forever. He withdrew Richard’s Bill of Attainer, and directed that all copies of it should be destroyed. With that nullification, Edward’s son should have become King. Instead, Henry took the throne, married the boy king’s sister and called her the new Queen of England. Then, the Plantagenets and their supporters began disappearing along with a few of their enemies. Within 7 years of accession, Henry had cleared the field of any Plantagenet supporter who might argue his claim to the throne but that still wasn’t enough; to keep the crown in his side of the family, Henry made sure no one sympathised with his opponent, even the dead ones. So, 9 years later, a report went out that a tortured man confessed to murdering Edward the V and his brother. The man added that Richard had ordered the murders. This report is what the rest is built on.
Shakespeare based the play, “Richard III” on the account of Thomas More, the “Man for All Seasons” in history. The problem is More was eight when Richard died, and nowhere near the events. More was also raised by Cardinal John Morton, a terrible enemy of Richard’s. So, More’s history is based on the impressions of a man who wanted Richard dead. The other historian, Polydore Vergil, didn’t get to England until Henry Tudor was safely in power. Every account Vergil had access to was based on stories told by the winner. And gossip, like the internet, created and spread the rumours that were inscribed as cold, hard history.
So why does all this matter? If you look at his verifiable actions, Richard was a disciplined, loyal man who followed the law and only acted rashly when he or his family was in danger. Richard had nothing to gain by killing his nephews but their deaths kept his enemy, Henry, on the throne. So, generations of people were taught King Richard as a lying, deceitful, manipulative, child-murderer because a smear campaign went into history and it worked so well, that no King of England has used the name Richard since. Richard III is the victim of rotten PR.
So it’s a big deal when the bones in a parking lot get a decent burial. A beleaguered King who was plotted against during his lifetime and defamed after death is getting a little justice. With the strength of the internet anyone’s character can be assassinated, just like Richard’s, when gossip is accepted as fact. So a respectful funeral is overdue. May he rest in peace and justice. And may we judge abe be judged by the truth.
The first signs of spring are visible to those with observant eyes. Although the branches look bare and skeletal, the swelling of buds has begun. The last of the daffodils are appearing along with a solid flush of forsythia. I’m cutting back the wisteria because they say that helps the flowers bloom. And the sunshine is warming the air.
This is an odd time of year when we all hold our breaths. We hope we’ve seen the last dregs of winter but we're not sure of this promise of warmth. My poor mother died in this season of doubt, in the days between flowers and snow. I had been enjoying an Alabama Spring, revelling in waves of new growth when the call came in from Kansas. “She’s pretty sick. Call your sister. You should get here while you can.”
We packed our bright, warm-weather clothes and flew to a state still locked down by the cold. “Should have brought our coats,” my husband murmured. “When does this place get warm?” We should have, knowing that my family rarely passes in fine weather. Dad went in the last days of summer and I thought we might join him from heat stroke. My uncles left while the ground was frozen. Now Mother would just miss the Spring.
We found Mom with my Sis at the hospital and took advantage of our time left to talk. I showed Mom photos of the South’s advancing Spring on my phone but I don’t think she was really interested. All of her energy had been focused on seeing us again and now she needed what was left to get to her next breath. Then the next one…and another… and another..until no breaths were left to take.
I remember snow falling in the hours after she died, almost as if Winter had taken Mom for its own and had now returned to stay. I watched big flakes pile up outside while I called friends and family and I thought, this is ridiculous, it’s late March, we should be finished with snow like that. Maybe I focused on the weather to keep from thinking about Mama or maybe I just get stupid thoughts. Either statement would be true.
Kansas began to thaw again as we cleared out her apartment and Alabama’s temps were touching 80 once we returned home. Here, life was past the first days of spring and people were already thinking of limeades and salads and beach gear. I put away my remembrances and began to exist in the country of Life after Mother.
It’s a different world, though a lot is the same and Mum is often on my mind, especially now at the edges of Spring. I wish she had lived to see it again but not all wishes come true. In the end, it was enough for her that we were there and Spring en route. Even in the last snow of Winter, Spring is on the way.
It’s not easy naming a cat. Like the poet, T. S. Eliot, I believe that each cat has a unique name and part of a human’s responsibility (along with litter box cleaning, play string dangling, door person and purveyor of food) is to deduce the cat’s real name. Roger is good at it. He named The Great Pixel and came up with Brindle Lee and (of course) Maynard G. Crebs ( the poor cat was born with a soul patch – the only female Maynard I have ever known) but it takes me a good bit longer. The huge black-and-white longhair has been baffling me for months since he’s too large for a normal cat name and he’s too informal for Bustopher Jones. He’s definitely an American cat, anyway. Nothing has seemed like the “right” name although Hagrid came pretty close: like the Care of Magical Creatures Teacher, his intimidating size is outmatched by his soft-guy heart. At any rate, I finally struck gold the other night and I’d like to introduce everyone to our newest family member: Moose.
Moose is a cat of enormous size, weighing in at thirteen pounds and all of it is muscle or fur. According to Moose, he is always hungry and he’s become a rare help around the house by disposing of scraps and leftovers, sometimes before they’ve been left over. His size scares the spit out of Charlie but a few things about Moose betray his true nature. First, he has a teeny, high mew of a voice (very incongruous) and he shifts that bulk of his along on tiny, mincing paws. His walk is like John Wayne’s, all big-shouldered and lumbering over smaller-than-average feet. At any rate, when he came too close to Brindle this morning (who has always been small for a cat) she sideswiped a paw at him, and the big galoot jumped back. Yup, he may look like a feline Schwarzenegger but in truth, he’s just a big old Moose. Moose, the cat, is a softie.
He also thinks he’s part dog. You know that emotional reserve cats are famous for? Moose hasn’t got it. He’s as friendly as a pup, he runs out to meet us in the afternoon and we can’t sit down on the couch until he’s rubbed that big body over both of us. Then, Moose rolls onto his back and demands to have his tummy tickled! I’ve never seen any cat who loves being pushed into the carpet more with his stomach fur being rubbed all the wrong way and his paws outspread begging for more. This cat honestly doesn’t know he is different and I hope the others don’t clue him in. Much as I love felines, I’ve missed having the friendship you can have with a dog and Moose is filling the bill. This spring, I may teach him to fetch.
If anyone is still wondering, Moose got his name from the character in the Archie comics, (while other kids got superhero comics, Mom restricted us to Archie and Betty) “Big Moose” Mason. Check him out if you are still curious. Moose is your stereotypical jock, big, sweet, and NOT a Rhodes scholar. But he’s a great friend. And so is our Moose. Come around and he’ll probably jump in your lap (and overfill it!) and lick your fingers or beg for a tummy rub with his small, squeaky voice. He’s a good boy and if you pick him up, you may strain your back but he never extends his claws – he loves being carried around. And, oh yes, don’t even think of taking him home. Moose, the cat who thinks he’s a dog, now belongs to me.
Life will always surprise you. When you think you know every possible outcome of the story, existence will throw you a curve ball. And it will come when you’re not ready to catch.
The vice I’ve practised the longest is reading in the tub. I know it’s not hygienic and it isn’t good for the books but nothing is as soothing as a warm tub and a good story so that’s where I was this evening, propped up with a head full of soap, my glasses perched on my nose and re-reading a wonderful book I had lost on the back shelf for years. The story adheres to the requirements of great entertainment: it makes me laugh, it makes me cry, it scares me to death and then the story ends. I was just starting the spooky part when my glasses slipped off of my nose.
Well, that was to be expected, I suppose. The earpieces were well off of their perch and since I was leaning forward it was only a matter of gravity. I picked up the errant glasses with my right hand and was preparing to shift the paperback toward the tub shelf when something small and grey fell from the back pages of the book and landed in the bathwater.
Now I prefer to bathe alone. That is, when the water is 80 plus degrees and the soap is in my hair I don’t like sharing my tub time with guests. There was something in that grey thing that fell and hit the water that reminded me of form – an animal form. Of course, I couldn’t see without my glasses but as the blob swirled in the currents of bathwater it seem to show dimension and I saw what might have been legs – far too many legs – and at back a length like a tail.
Now, you may think middle-aged women cannot levitate, especially women of girth who have long since passed 50. You would be wrong. A properly motivated woman can rise from the bath, like a ghoul from the grave, and perform ballet combinations without ever having a single lesson if it means she can avoid touching that grey lump in the water. She can jeté and arabesque and plié six inches above the water, balancing all of her weight on one wrist and toe, while the paperback flies across the bath and her glasses fall back in the water. It’s amazing what can be done at such times and I hope I never do it again as my right thigh is already complaining but if the record for rescuing eyeglasses from a bath, pulling the plug and boosting a human being away from the tub all in a single arm motion is more than half of one second, I broke it. By the way, the grey shape in the tub was dust fluff. That’s all.
We’re supposed to see a musical tomorrow but I can’t help but think it will be anti-climactic. I don’t care how good the choreography is, no dancer moves like me.
I have a new desk tonight, the first new desk I’ve had in more than 30 years. I’m not bragging, I’m overwhelmed by the kindness of the man who wants me to have it and what it represents.
I often say we got married when we were rolling-pennies-for-gas-money broke. For the first five or so years, it was a pretty spare existence held together by our joy at being together and the generosity of relatives. Sometimes I would talk about how I wanted to write fiction someday and my husband listened to me dream out loud but I couldn’t make the words come, whenever I sat down and tried. It was enough for me then that he listened.
My mother-in-law was the one who bought us a desk, of those wooden ones kids used in the 1950’s. It’s solid, scarred, the top is warped and less than a yard wide but it was big enough for the portable typewriter I used to write resumes on during the late 1980’s and it was small enough to fit in the apartment and then the spare room of the house we eventually bought. It doesn’t have storage space, though, and the old CPU and CRT that replaced the typewriter took up 90% of its surface. We learned to type with the keyboards balanced on our knees. Occasionally I would look at new desks in the department stores and think about how I could use one with drawers and shelves but we really couldn’t afford it and it wasn’t worth fussing about. The computer was used for play, not stories and for that, the desk was sufficient.
The student desk may be warped and splay-legged but it turned out I could work there once I got out of my own way. The cords, CPU and CRT gave way to a single unit flat screen with wireless connections. The printer/scanner still took up all the extra room but I finished my college papers there, a handful of stories, an article and a finished, if unpublished book. After thirty years, I had made peace with the damn desk. Then this Christmas, my husband bought me a new one.
I thought he was nuts. Why did I need a new desk? Yes, the paperbacks and my coffee cup stayed piled on top of the broken printer scanner, but what did that matter? I knew where most things were. I hadn’t thought of a new desk in years. “Well, you’re writing the blog, now,” he said. “I figure you could really use some more work space.”
The blog is what convinced him. After almost 30 years of listening to me moan about the lack of talent and writer’s block, I’ve started writing regularly and I’ve stuck to it for a while. He’s not expecting me to be a best-seller but he likes what I write and he knows how much this means to me. He has confidence. He thinks I need a better desk.
The new desk is a beautiful thing, not too big, but it has drawers and places for storage. There are acres of room on the top. Don’t tell my husband, but I put the keyboard on the desktop to type and it's taking up part of the surface; I’ll put it on its tray when I stop. It weighs less than the student desk but it’s designed for a flat screen and the few cables that still come with technology. It’s amazing but that’s not the reason I love it.
You see, if you stay in a relationship long enough I guarantee you will have disappointments. The person you love will, intentionally or not, fall short of your expectations and you’ll have to accept that or leave. You’ll disappoint them too if you stay long enough, and it will hurt your heart when it happens because we hate to disappoint people we love. My husband is a kind man but he’s not dumb; he probably realised during our first year that any literary ambitions I claimed were more like wishful dreams. I don’t think that bothered him as much as it bothered me (he really does love me the way I am) but he probably wished I wouldn’t give up on the things I care about. And he learned not to get excited when I got a new story idea. He knew I would probably quit.
So this desk is a very big deal. Whatever I write now, whether it’s praised or not, shows I’m sticking with something I care about and he is proud of that. I’ve made him proud. I love that more than my desk
On Reaching the 50th Entry:
Today was my 50th blog post. As events go, this is a tiny one and not worth much consideration but as it is some sort of milepost, I’d like to say what I’ve seen in this fairly short time.
- First, I can see why so many bloggers quit. Oh, it sounds easy. Share a bit of data and some company will give you the web space to publish whatever you want to write about as often as you want to write about it and once you get fans and set up advertising, you can actually make money. There are no agents to ignore you, no editor to reject your work, just you and the millions out in ether-space waiting to dive into your prose. It’s a heady idea. Then, once you screw up your courage and register, stage fright descends. What are you going to write about? All the ideas that festered in your brain before you decided to blog have fled or, worse yet, they’ve turned out to be a paltry list of thoughts. After the first few entries, a blog is work and writing something worth reading isn’t easy to do, especially without an editor to tidy up your grammar. It’s easier to quit, especially since you think no one will notice you’ve gone.
- Because, despite all of the people who seem to be wandering around the ‘net looking for something to read, none of them seems to be interested in you. If you are lucky, a few of the friends who promised to follow, comment on and publicise your column actually do show up. But the attention you thought would come immediately or (at least) increase steadily, doesn’t appear. You have to promote that blog like it’s your only hope of heaven and still put in the work when nobody shows up.
- There are some lovely things, though. A writer whose work I admire actually found an essay I posted on one of her books and reprinted it. I didn’t send it to her; she found it and described my review as “beautiful”. How generous. I’ve made some new friends through these posts and older friends pay me the compliment of searching for books I’ve mentioned. The act of writing is a one-way stream of communication but those responses tell me someone's listening. That I've been heard. That's the biggest rush I know.