On the 13th day of Christmas …


My writing table is clean for the first time in three years. Digging down through the piles, I discovered some unopened correspondence — can there be anything more melancholy? — and four envelopes that I’d put stamps on, presumably for letters I never finished writing, or wrote and then decided not to send.

With two or three years’ perspective, one has a better idea of what’s really necessary to keep, and what can be pitched. I found multiple copies of minutes from old meetings I couldn’t remember having attended. I found articles that I had set down where I would see and read them, but then quickly buried with other, more urgent things. I had to create four new file folders, and in the process reacquainted myself with my filing system, which is not organized alphabetically but by logical relatedness.

For example, in one of my file cabinets, a folder marked “Me” — for expired passports and the like — is followed by “Stuff” — owner’s manuals and warrantees — and then “Financial Crap.” Beyond that, the back half of the drawer holds files of correspondence from family and friends — letters and postcards, poems and photos. Going in the other direction, “Me” is preceded by “How-To” (which is practically empty; I’m not very handy), “Herbs,” and at the front of the drawer, a number of bulging folders devoted to beer and brewing.

So here I sit at my clean, almost empty table, struggling against the blankness of this virtual page. I feel suddenly very exposed. But that NY Times article I blogged about the other day, “Saying Yes To Mess,” frightened me. I never like thinking I might be part of some trend or movement.


Last night we asked my cousin Morgan, who is still young enough to believe in Santa, how her Christmas had gone. “O.K., I guess,” she said. “But I have so many toys now! Next year I’ll have to have a little talk with Santa, and tell him not to bring me too many more toys.” I’m not sure she realizes that many of her cousin Elanor’s toys, including some that were in my parents’ living room last night, had once belonged to her.

Of course, Elanor is young enough to be happy with practically anything: an empty plastic pint container can provide hours of amusement. And Morgan’s attention is drawn often enough to natural objects — a mantid egg case, a goldenrod gall. She brought the magnifying glass that my mother had given her on an earlier visit and wanted to take a close look at everything.

Most interesting of all — to me, at least — is Morgan’s penchant for spinning stories. A toy or other object no sooner attracts her attention than it is endowed with a personality and a basic trajectory of needs. We humans are all still animists at heart, I think.

4 Replies to “On the 13th day of Christmas …”

  1. I love reading about you and your nieces.

    But, really (excuse me as I collect myself) . . . your filing system is too much . . .

    too much like my own, upon reflection. I wish I didn’t have to save things that aren’t discoverable using search fields.

  2. I remember feeling the same way as a small child, when I felt I’d gotten too many presents. It was overwhelming. Which is why I did not give presents to the few children in my circle, who I know got swamped. I will give to them in other ways at other times, and not add to the burden of loot.

  3. I’m ramping up to sorting out my own files and clearing the paper clutter too… but I’ve been slacking on book-packing the last few days. (If I didn’t mention it before, I’m moving down to Virginia early next year.)

    And yes, we’re certainly animists! Everything gets personalized….

  4. Peter – Well, you probably shouldn’t be too surprised. Lawyering and high school teaching are two of the very few professions i think i’d probably do O.K. at (if i weren’t a lazy sack o’ shit, that is).

    Zhoen – Ah. That helps put your recent post, the one I smorgasblogged, into perspective, I think. Me, I don’t ever recall feeling that way as a child. Probably because my parents didn’t spend all that much on us. We’d get one or two exciting presents apiece, plus clothes and stocking stuffers (art supplies and such).

    David – God, i hate moving! I hope your move is as untraumatic as possible.

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