I ran across a reference to Diane Ackerman’s A Natural History of the Senses twice in the space of a couple of days last month. First in Austin Kleon’s blog (do you read it? If you don’t, gift yourself the time to do so) and then in a second place — which I promptly forgot to write down.
I might not pay attention to everything, but nudges like that set me off on a search, sure, once again, that this is a clue order. Or clean closets.
Barely beyond the title page, I stopped reading, charmed by a word that made sense, and yet I’d never used:
1. to submerge; engulf. 2. to overcome utterly; overwhelm
Negative connotations drag at the more conventional, contemporary overwhelm. But Ackerman, in describing Helen Keller’s finely attuned senses of smell, taste and touch, said:
She wrote at length about the whelm of life’s aromas, tastes, touches, feelings, which she explored with the voluptuousness of a courtesan. Despite her handicaps, she was more robustly alive than many people of her generation.
I choose whelm as a guide word, a talisman on this blog journey. Time to give myself permission to find the things that make me feel curious and alive. And dive deep.
Most of the long drive home Tuesday was under skies of brilliant blue. All that changed about 90 miles from our front door when the clouds lowered and threatened. The unyielding sign we were back in the winter space, I suppose.
Once home we faced the up-and-down, in-and-out monotony of unloading the cars, stowing the vacation gear, sorting the clean and dirty laundry. All the things we performed with fresh enthusiasm three weeks ago were mundane, weary actions.
In my office space, I surveyed the room. Never neat enough, never cleared enough. (A reflection of self-talk? Maybe.) Mainly it reflects hoarded dreams and hopes and color. All the times I was sure I found the magic key to life falling into place.
Front and center were the bags. The pretty, utilitarian and spacious totes in which I pack up everything I may “need” when away from this space. This hidey-hole.
A quick inventory of the bags showed I never really unpack. Stowed inside are the items I was sure I needed in Ireland in April, in New York in June, for surgery days (how would I exactly see a notebook on eye surgery day?) in August and for the beach. Items that silently accused me of not living up to their potential.
A longer look revealed things I’ve never truly unpacked since moving here four years ago. Pictures waiting to find space on the wall lean against bookshelves. Candles waiting for a light line shelves and drawers. I see piles of the notebooks I knew — just knew — would magically compel me to sit down and fill them in artistic, poetic ways. Tote bags full of things I could forget once they were in a closet, out of sight.
That is the key: I tend to pack up memories of places in totes behind closed closet doors. My personal survival mode for moving over the years was to firmly shut the door on memories, looking ahead to the next steps instead of mourning the things left behind. Is that a reason for never truly unpacking? Because once I do, the chances of moving again are greater?
I don’t even look look back at photos of places because I refuse to give way to yearning to be back there.
I unpacked one tote and found three books I planned to read, and didn’t. Two yarn projects I planned to knit or crochet and didn’t. Six notebooks to match the mood of writing for a given day. In retrospect, I get having several lip colors in a bag for mood/dress, but six notebooks? Who exactly am I kidding?
That ready, willing fool waiting to be kidded on the universal level is, apparently, me.
Looking around the space I felt tired instead of embraced. How much do I have to shift the things already here to accommodate the things I brought back? (Fortunately, those things this time were small, specific and already well used.) How much still needs to be shifted from moves and trips and sudden, magpie-drawn-by-the-shiny need? Maybe I should have written NEED which is how the magpie brain works.
I wrote the other day that re-opening myself to posting here meant I need to show up. To tell the story in small bits of narrative. Clearing, cleaning this office space is now part of the whole narrative. Peeling back the thoughts and putting them in this space is important for a clear head. Parsing the tote bags, unpacking the boxes is important for an open heart.
For both, I need to take it in small consistent steps.
So I’ll start without the clearest of plans except to show up.