Last week I was doing the floor rounds with the Director of the hospital unit where I volunteer and, as I often train others, we were creating a checklist of standardized tasks. While talking, I observed how he perfectly coiled and tied an internet cable: “Do you have a touch of o.c.d?” I blurted out, pretty insensibly.
He grinned “Possibly”. In my world, it was actually meant as a compliment but I am always mildly relieved when I meet people who seem more obsessed than I am when it comes to tidiness.
Not only is my house neat and tidy, with everything in its proper place, I am also the sort of annoying travel companion who tidies up hotel rooms and inspects for dirt. I have to stop myself from reorganizing and cleaning other people’s houses. After a catering job, I tend to leave the kitchen cleaner than I found it. I just can’t help it.
For the longest time, I believed it was an inherited trait from my mother but I also realize it’s a form of exercising control over my surroundings and, possibly, my life at large.
A couple of years ago, our man about town (London town, that is), Eddie Clarke, sent us a cute poem by one Rose Milligan that first appeared in an English magazine, The Lady, in 1998. The poem is titled “Dust if you must” and it’s about the perils of spending too much time tending house while missing out on life. According to Ms. Milligan, I am the sort of person who would most certainly benefit from leaving the mop alone and occupy my time differently. (you can read the poem at the bottom of this post)
That post is our most read, something that still baffles me to this day. It’s all a question of offer and demand: the poem is pretty hard to find on-line and it turns out C&S is one of the few sites where it can be read in its entirety (thank you Eddie – you unwittingly helped us draw eyeballs to the site).
Recently, I noticed the poem was enjoying a new renaissance, with thousands of visitors coming to the site just for it. When I followed some of the search engines, I landed on Calm Things, poet and writer Shawna Lemay’s site where, among lovely photographs and quotes, I also found the Billy Collins poem “Advice to Writers” on the merit of cleaning to achieve better writing. Well, Billy Collins is a bit more poetic about it but he nailed my feelings perfectly.
The world is populated by two types of creative people: those who are unaware of their surroundings and even thrive on chaos and those, like me, who need to dust away the cobwebs, metaphorical or otherwise, before clear thinking is allowed to flow.
So, sanctioned by poetry, I picked up that duster again, with a little less guilt.
Top image: Virginia Woolf’s desk
Middle image: Albert Einstein’s desk