Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Chi and the Writer

            Keeping a clean house doesn’t come very naturally to me. Maintaining a constant state of clutter, though? I’ve made an art form out of that. I’m not even sure where the stacks and piles come from. One day the place is tidy; the next day, chaos.
            The denizens of my house spent this past weekend cleaning. I find that the eight-year-old is just the right age to run things here and there—toy to his room, dish to the kitchen, stray sock to the hamper. (This may be why I had one of those, come to think of it. It takes a long time for a kid to become useful!)
            A clean house makes me feel relaxed. It also prepares me to take on the next project. There is no pile of mail to go through, no trash or recycling to take to the bin. May as well write a poem, I figure, rather than, oh, watching TV and feeling guilty about neither cleaning nor writing a poem. Clutter puts everything on hold; we all move through the house in slow motion.
            I went through a period a few years back when I read everything I could about feng shui, the traditional Chinese system that directs placement of items within a space in a way that facilitates the flow of energy, or chi. A real commitment to feng shui requires a much tidier setup than I have on my very best day, so I gave it up as a bad deal—but the logic of the system sticks. Our own sluggishness inside a messy house makes sense within the terms of feng shui. Clutter stops flow, stops energy, and the negative energy builds in the places where it becomes stymied. A tidy house with a careful arrangement the items within helps all of us to ride a silver stream of chi.
            In terms of writing, the neatness feels like a boon—but the effect is so temporary for someone like me, someone who leaves literal paper trails, someone whose first move upon arriving home is to step out of her shoes in mid-stride, drop her pants on the floor, then work her bra through her sleeve and slingshot it to any corner.
            There is a question inherent in all of this. Is it a good writing strategy to tidy up before setting in to work? As much as I like the (now deteriorating) cleanliness, I did blow a weekend pulling it off—and that was a weekend I could have spent writing. What’s more, a clean and tidy house has a short half-life if I’m the one living in it. A weekend of effort is effectively neutralized by Wednesday.
            Like so many problems, money could solve this one. A regular hired housekeeper could take care of the cleaning, and that would allow my family just to tidy up—an easier job, but not a small one, by any stretch.
            And along those lines, full-time childcare would also free up some writing time. And so could an errand person. A personal shopper. A chef. An accountant. It would be lovely, too, not to have to go to work. Imagine! A person could wake up when she wanted, work when (and on what) she wanted, have fun when she wanted, and end each day relaxed. May as well add a massage specialist to the mix, while we’re at it.
            But in the world I inhabit, there are courses to plan and to teach, papers to grade, kids to nurture and to play with, meals to prepare, love to make, stuff to buy and repair and maintain.

            And there’s a mess, gathering even now, in my brain and in my house. From a writerly perspective, I actually believe it can be good for energy to stall and to tangle in the brain, despite the benefits of flow. I suppose letting a thought come and letting it go is a healthier way to live—but whatever would we write about? The poet’s mind needs clutter. I just wish I could work the tangles out on my own time, within the order of a perfect home.

No comments:

Post a Comment