I know that from that last entry it may sound, just a bit, as though I live in a rather chaotic environment. That’s because I do. I am physically incapable of being neat and organized, and no matter what I do, I seem to live in a continual circle of filth. Although it doesn’t actually consist of dirt--its more made up of books, yarn, beads, and okay, a lot of dog hair.
“Circle of filth” is a term coined by my sister in law, who first used it to to describe the mess that my father is capable of creating around himself in five seconds flat. He can enter a lovely room with everything in its place, sit down, and a few minutes later there are empty cups, spoons, floods of newspapers, and bits of paper towel. And, on Wednesdays, nail clippings. He gets very, very angry at the fact that we all noticed years ago that he has a specific day for nail clipping, because he hates for his OCD to be noticed. One might say, he’s almost compulsive about it. You would think someone as OCD as he is would be neater, but sadly that is not the case.
When David Sedaris described growing up with his parents as akin to “being raised by a pair of housecats”, I felt a chord resonate deep within my cluttered and dusty soul. Because that’s what growing up in our house was like. We didn’t do things like eat around the dinner table every night, and we certainly didn’t have stupid rules like other kids about bedtime and keeping our rooms clean. I like cats, and I like my parents. And actually, I guess comparing my parents to cats isn’t quite fair, because cats are very clean animals. Its just that cleaning was never a priority in our house. I don’t mean for it to sound like we lived in squalor, because we really didn’t. It’s just that my family has always had a lot of stuff, and by stuff I mean books. We vacuumed and washed the dishes and all of that, but actually putting things away was not a goal. Although every so often my OCD father would decide that he was tired of the various bookbags and shoes lying in the entryway and simply throw them into the yard.
I once toyed with the idea of putting my house up for sale, and had a realtor walk through it. Since my house is very small, this took only about four minutes, after which the poor woman had to sit down and be brought a glass of water and the smelling salts. Well, not really, but if I’d had any lying around I would have waved them at her. When she regained the ability to speak she said “PODS. We’re going to need at least three PODS just for the books!!!” I said “But why? Can’t I just kind of, you know, organize them or something? Maybe actually put them all on shelves?”
She explained to me that when you sell a house, you want the “lines” or “the bones” of the house to show, and that mine was too full of books to even designate actual rooms except by saying “that’s the room with the craft books” or “that’s the room with all the holocaust memoirs”, and that furthermore, having too many books can confuse and intimidate buyers. ??????????????????? What? Confuse and intimidate them??? But there are mostly democrats in this neighborhood! Republicans wouldn't fit in here!!!
I didn’t sell my house after all, mostly because I was going to sell it to move in with a woman who let slip during the process of making an offer on a place that the downstairs spare room would be a great place for her 75 year old ex husband to “stay in”. !!!!!!
The house hunting and the relationship ended shortly after that. It’s one thing to get involved with someone 20 years older than you are.....quite another when that person has an ex spouse who is 20 years older than HER who she’s not only still in touch with, but whom she’s thinking of caring for in his twilight years!!!! IN YOUR HOUSE!!!! See: Why I Am Still Single.
Anyway. One of the reasons I obsess about my cluttered house so much is because everyone else in the world seems to care so much about having nicely decorated homes with color coordinating throw pillows and I just cannot for the life of me understand it. I choose my homes by the amount of space they have for bookshelves. I don’t care about things like breakfast nooks and closet space and whether or not my hardwood floors are red oak [actually, they might be: don’t know, and don’t care].
I care about how much uninterrupted wall space I have for bookshelves and stacks of books. I also need room for craft supplies, but even those are secondary to the books.
This is how I was raised. I do not trust people who don’t have lots of books in their homes. I don’t think they’re normal, and I know they’re boring. And while I know there are people who read who don’t actually buy or keep books, I find those people rather suspicious as well. Because I suspect that those are people who read for a specific reason, such as spiritual growth or impressing other people, and I don’t trust them either. Reading should be done like anything else that’s truly worth doing, because you love it and because without it, you feel empty. People who read books only for specific reasons, well, they’re usually just performing a chore, like Oh, i have to pick up the dry cleaning, oh, I have to get my pelvic exam, oh, i have to read oprah’s latest pick so I can talk about it at the playground with all of the other soccer moms. Retch.
I read like a fiend as a child. I still do, but I literally always had my nose in a book for the first ten or so years of life. I brought books everywhere. We were always driving somewhere, and at that age I could still read in the car. I would take walks and read while walking, a skill which has proved particularly useful in my choice of career. I hated going out to eat, because that meant I couldn’t read at the table. Since at home we rarely ate around the table, I always read while eating, a habit that I’ve continued, much to the horror of all the weight loss experts. I read before bed, but never had to use a flashlight under the covers because as long as I was in bed, my parents didn’t care. I was the one who had to get up in the morning, and if I stayed up too late and was cranky in the morning, that was my problem.
Every room I had from the first grade on was dominated by bookshelves. The house we lived in when I was in the first and second grade had a white built in waist high bookshelf that ran the whole length of my room. I don’t remember much else about that room, but I remember that bookshelf, which was already overflowing by the time we moved.
By the time we moved to the house we lived in from the time I was 10 until I left for college, [and then returned to after college] my bedroom had two full sized bookshelves stacked sideways and double with books, and endless stacks of books on the floor. My college dorm rooms always consisted of a single mattress on the floor, as many bookshelves as I could squeeze in, and more stacks of books.
This is what my entire house looks like as an adult, except now the bookshelves are in every room except the kitchen and some rooms, like the study, have 5 or more full sized overflowing bookshelves. There’s no bookshelf in the bathroom, but there are books stacked against the wall, and the living room only has one shelf but the opposite wall is simply stacked full of books. I live alone, except for my mentally deficient dog and assorted cats, so there is no one to tell me to stop acquiring books, not that I ever really listened to those who did. And yes, some actually did and more unbelievably, I listened.
In graduate school my girlfriend made a big deal about how annoying it was that I had so many books. She owned a mattress, some clothes, and a TV tray. Our house was furnished with my furniture, my pots and pans, my washer and dryer, my dining room table, chairs, sofa, television, and computer. Since she used all of those things on a daily basis, that was fine; I could have those. But the books meant nothing to her, because she had never actually read a book for pleasure, and, as it turned out, was with me primarily because she could barely read them for school and I in fact wrote almost all of her papers for the two years we were together. Why was I with someone who didn’t read??? Well, she paid attention to me, and so far, that’s been my main requirement for a romantic partner, apparently.
I had a good friend in library school who once came over to our house, and I said something self deprecating about my messy bookshelves. This lovely young man turned to me with wide eyes and said seriously “But Zoe, this is one of the coolest things about you; I mean, your bookshelves are actually sagging under the weight of all these books, and you’ve actually READ most of them!”
I remember very few things that that girlfriend said, but I always have remembered that her reply to this was, “Ugh, I HATE all these books”. Later on, before we broke up, we went to a couples therapist [goddamit. I hate lesbian relationships] and again, she talked at length about how she hated my books. The therapist told her in no uncertain terms that if she didn’t like my books then she shouldn’t be with me, because even the therapist knew what a reader I was. the therapist also made the point that my girlfriend probably hated my books because they made her insecure, because she wasn’t as smart as I was [am]. Then she proceeded to tell my girlfriend that she was emotionally abusive and told me that I should kick her to the curb, in front of the girlfriend.
That therapist was fucking awesome.
Then, there was the crazy homophobic boyfriend. Did i forget to mention that he did not read either? i think, in the 5 years we were together, he read perhaps 5 books. To be fair, he was sort of dyslexic, but that didn’t seem to affect his ability to look at endless discussion lists on the internet during his extended unemployment. He also hated the books, and before he moved in with me he said that I had to get rid of enough books so that all the remaining ones actually fit on my bookshelves.
I am ashamed to say that I did this.
Even after the de-dyking episode which i’ve already mentioned, I still didn’t have enough room on my bookshelves for all of my books. So i did a personal weed and got rid of so many books that I got over a hundred bucks in cash from the half price bookstore. They pay about twenty five to fifty cents a book. Maybe a dollar. The load I took over there filled the back of my Subaru hatchback. [I know, I know. Straight women don’t drive Subarus. I know.]
Then, once he moved in he made a rule that I had to get rid of a book for every book I purchased. Really. Never mind that any book purchased was done so with MY money, and brought into first an apartment that I paid more for, and then into a house that was in MY NAME. Never mind that in a relationship it is not up to one person to decide what the other person can and can’t have when that person isn’t allowed to say shit about how many old cars the other person drags home and parks behind the house.
Of course all this made me do was buy books in secret and then sneak them into the house while he was at work. Never mind that all of my books stacked together in one pile would not have taken up as much room as one of the three vehicles he owned, four if you count the motorcycle. It takes a lot of books to equal a 59 fucking cadillac and a fullsized pickup truck.
His main hobby, other than criticizing me, was watching TV. He was serious about this, and spent a great deal of time honing his craft. It was not uncommon for me to leave for work, with him sprawled on the sofa watching TV, and then return home 9 hours later to find him in the exact same position, the only evidence of any interim movement being the trail of crumbs stuck in his chest hair. He would then pry his eyes away from the screen, ask me what was for dinner, neglect to ask me about my day, and then take a firmer grip on the remote in case I got any ideas. So, i would come in, change, speak to him only during commercials, prepare dinner, and then after dinner I would settle myself in a corner of the sofa and read while he watched more TV.
Anyway. My last significant other told me that she didn't see any future with me because she said that she felt there was "no room" for her in my life. Since I had given up most of my spare time, friends, personal goals, and almost my house for the two years we were together, I found this a little difficult to process. I asked her just how I could go about making more room for her.
Without batting an eye she said "Well, obviously you have to start by getting rid of a lot of your books".
I got rid of her instead. And haven't regretted it for an instant.