I once met a girl who kept her house neat. She furnished it with
tasteful, interesting, attractive pieces which were not only
functional but were easy on my eyes as well. They
invited me to touch them and enjoy them. And her style of
decorating was immaculate. Everything was in it's place - impeccably
so, in fact. Yet it wasn't museum quality impeccability
where everything's also in its place but the message is clear: look but
don't touch! In her house the message was look
and touch - that's what her style invited me to do. And if
things got moved around a bit, she reset them after her guests left,
back to their original immaculate state. Rather than being hassled
having to reset her furniture, she took it as a compliment that it had
been used and enjoyed. She actually looked forward to the
next time her guests would muss with her impeccable arrangement.
I suppose you could say in addition to being immaculate and impeccable,
her style was pragmatic, utile. Secondarily it was intended for
display. Primarily it was intended to be used. There was nothing
phobish or weird about it, even given its impeccability.
Hers was a kind of
generous creativity, a sense of design in which her visitors were
included rather than held at bay like observers behind a
roped off area - like, in fact, intruders. Her style not only
it was also first inviting then inspiring.
I commented on this to her. I said her chairs called out to
me to sit on them, her couch asked me to come lie on it, her
carefully placed throw blanket invited me to snuggle myself with it -
something which would have rendered my immediate eviction from a
museum, as well as from some of the other houses I know in which
furniture is on display only. In those houses it would be unthinkable
to actually use pieces of furniture as furniture,
forbid! - as alluring and as tasteful as they may be. In those houses,
pieces of furniture are on display like oversized baubles of garish
jewellery: shown off, intended to be gahgah-ed over, but not sat
She appreciated me noticing. She told me "Not everyone gets it the way
you do. Some people call me anal". "Meaning exactly what"? I
asked her. "I suppose they think I'm obsessed with tidiness" she said.
"And what does that mean?" I asked. "Who are they being
that you're anal?".
It took a moment for my question to sink in. "Hmmm..." she
murmured, having not looked at it that way before. I continued: "You're
immaculate. You're impeccable, stylish, and creative. You're also
generous, and in addition to all that, you keep your house neat.
You're tidy. When someone is labeled anal, there's an implication of
obsessive-compulsiveness about it. So, again, what I'm
asking is who are they being that you, being tidy, are
anal? When they call you anal, it says more about them than
it says about you. Who are they being that you being neat and having
life work are obsessive-compulsive?".
If you stop and think about it for a moment, life working like a
possibility is a do-able state of affairs, yes?
When life isn't working, it's only not working in a particular
situation, in certain circumstances, for the time being. Life
not working isn't "the truth" forever. It's not a fact
always. It's not written in stone permanently. That's the whole idea of
inventing new possibilities. Who do you have to be being if having life
work is anal? What does that tell you about your concept of what's
do-able? About what's possible?
The interesting but not so obvious thing about
is it's pretty cut and dried. Things work or they don't.
There's no middle ground. Close enough isn't good enough.
I watched an electrician working. He was attaching a row of hooded
lights halfway up a picket fence along a garden path to illuminate the
path at night. To do that, he had to drill holes in the fence through
which the electric conduit was threaded, then screwed to each light
fixture. The drill bit he used was ill‑chosen. It not only
pierced through the fence - it took a sizable chunk of wood out of the
other side as well leaving jagged holes in plain view. When each light
fixture was mounted in place, the electric conduit on the other side of
the fence hung in uneven loops, not stapled to the fence to keep it
neat - not "conscious" as I prefer to say. Wood chips,
sawdust, and snips of plastic conduit casing littered the path.
He flipped a switch, noted all the lights came on, and nodded his head
- satisfied. Then he packed up his tools and prepared to leave. I
asked him about the work still not done, pointing to the proliferation
of evidence of it. He told me his job was over and he was going. "When
will you return to finish up? This work isn't complete" I observed. He
replied he was "only doing his job".