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Dust I must

Posted in Things We Love

virginia woolf deskLast 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)

Einstein's deskThat 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

Dust if you must… a poem on the perils of housework.

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7 Comments

  1. So funny…spring really does make some of us want to clean and tidy up! The poem is great!

    April 1, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Would you believe me if I told you I made a list of Spring chores to take care of??

      April 2, 2016
      |Reply
  2. Oh, and I just remembered a story! My mother is very tidy, I’d say to a fault: we were once in her kitchen, preparing a seafood dish, and I needed some shrimp shells (is this the right word?) to cook in water to make a fumet. I was peeling the shrimps and placing the shells on a bowl to use in a few minutes, and my mother knew what they were for. I turn around to look at something, and when I look at the bowl, the contents are gone. “Where are the shells?” My mother looks at me, comprehension dawning on her, and blurts out, “I just threw them away without thinking.”
    We were lucky to have more frozen shrimp to thaw and shell, but needless to say it’s now a recurring joke at her household every time I’m there and decide to cook 😀

    April 1, 2016
    |Reply
  3. Theoretically, I highly value tidiness. Do I practice it, though? Absolutely not. Unfortunately, it’s a losing battle with me – living in a tiny flat with another messy person doesn’t help, either. We’ve so much stuff that a lot of it doesn’t have a “place to live” (to quote Marie Kondo) and a lot of it I just need on a daily basis, so putting it away is useless. Also (does this happen to you?) when I put things away, they tend to disappear from my thought. Imagine my surprise the other day when I found 500gr of wool I could dye, and had no idea I owned!

    If you ever feel like spending some time in London tidying up, I’ll most gladly send you my address 😀

    April 1, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      Don’t threaten the chickens, as we say in my household…I just might. Let it be known that I pick up less used items and make a mental note of where I am going to store them…never to be found again. Maybe years later, when I am not looking. So, yes, there is an upside to keeping everything in plain view.
      Your mom’s story is funny and something I might have done. I am not admitting to anything here.

      April 2, 2016
      |Reply
  4. I also value cleanliness and tidiness, keeps things the way they should be. My mother was way worse than me so I feel good that I am not obsessive (yet) they say you get worse as you get older!

    April 1, 2016
    |Reply
    • camparigirl
      camparigirl

      At least we will not be hording in our old age!

      April 2, 2016
      |Reply

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