June 28, 2016

Cleaning House, Cleaning Heart: A Tale from in Between.

Clem Onojeghuo/Unsplash

If our homes reflected the story of our inner lives, what story would they tell?

I’m pondering that question from the bath, which has kid-sized muddy footprints all around the edges. There’s a joyousness in that mess at least.

The mess “over there” tells a different story though. For one, I know that no one is going to clean it up if I don’t. There’s a certain grown up loneliness in that truth. And a grown up power. The floor needs a scrub. It hasn’t even been very long! How can it be so grimy already? Where are we really if our very foundation is murky. Or is it just a matter of excessive use, of blessedly busy feet and of higher priorities? It’s both, I suppose.

The next room is the kitchen, and it could use an overhaul. Just dishes, or are we going to do cupboards and jars and forgotten flour packets with webs in the top? They make false promises those flour packets, like tired ideas or attachments that no longer serve, they promise spongy cakes and ginger nut cookies that will never happen. And they take up space.

The kitchen is the heart of the home, they say. And, as could be said of my actual heart, the strangest assortment of homeless objects has accumulated here: half read books with pages folded hopefully at the corners, some drawings, a little stack of mail addressed to an unknown A. Beard who must have lived here once, a miniature (really miniature) rake for arranging tiny pebbles, Japanese style. Was it for raking one’s way to inner calm? It doesn’t matter really. Someone has tipped out the pebbles. The essence of rake is raking, so this is a rake adrift.

Wow, my little veranda is really…well, it represents everything that is abandoned and in want of my attention and love. There are things that need to be let go of and things that ought to be saved. Boxes of what was once my academic career, under boxes of what reluctantly became my market career, under bags of clothes destined for the charity shop. On the shelf are half finished drawings and piles of photographs, the diaries of my adolescence and travels and all the love letters I’ve ever received by post. I seem to have a lot of extra shoes. Where do I suppose I’m going to be wearing those?

Verandas truly are the threshold spaces, the buffer zones between our private and public worlds. Between the domesticated indoors and the untamed chaos of the jungle. Between what we can bear to look at and what we cannot. The windows might rattle and leak allowing some of what’s inside to leak out and some of what’s outside to seep in. And the stuff we store there—the things fading in or out of our lives and the things we’re not quite sure what to do with—they wait, accruing dust or mold or bleaching in the sunlight, depending on the season.

Nothing is really shown in its best aspect if it’s kept waiting in this in-between-land too long. There’s a real essential juiciness to that which is immanent. And nothing is very immanent in the waiting area. It’s not about rushing so much as paying attention. At some point it’s in or out with the stuff, and with each other. Yes, we eventually must hold on with our two hands or consciously let go, lest the flow is disrupted and we find ourselves marooned in an ocean of irrelevant junk. I see these unsorted things, the physical ones as well as the ones inside me, as distractions from the flow of life. If they are really here to stay then we must own them, give them presence. The water will part around them and a new course will be forged. In that case, we hope that it’s a picturesque course. The less worthy stuff, well, eventually the current gets under it and it’s shifted. Better we usher that process along.

My parents met while waiting in a buffer zone, a veranda space, a political no-mans-land separating Afghanistan from Iran. Like the stuff on my veranda, I suspect they didn’t quite know what to do with themselves, with their lives. So there, waylaid on the overland route through Central Asia between Europe and India, before the world changed and the fear of that journey took such an urgent hold, they communed.

In that liminal space where anything could happen, my organized mum had some cheese in her bag. My dad ate the cheese. Love was born in that fabled wayside garden (at least that’s how I’ve always pictured it) and the rest is history. Such is the directional potential of the veranda space. But you see, at some point they had to leap and choose holding over waiting or drifting. Forty-five years on it seems that it was a fortuitous leap. My mother is still organizing the snacks for the journeys they share.

Unsurprisingly, given the family genesis, my whole life has been conducted in a betwixt and between space, separating the adopted quasi-Indian identity of an Ashram-raised kid from the mainstream Australian life that has always surrounded me. I’m not fully at home in either world. I’m happily listening to bansuri flute as I write, but aside from one real favorite, I keep my saris, piles of them, in boxes on the veranda. It says something.

And my lawn, the more immanent concern of the jungle at my doorstep, no one will mow it if I don’t. I get one point, I’ve had the mower repaired. But it’s not quite the space for picnicking or basking that it could be. And jungles don’t just sit there getting dusty like love letters and old shoes, they are an invasively fertile force, turn your back for a moment and your kitchen will want pruning.

The garden beds are a disgrace. Cracked dry earth hosts a tangle of weeds that is meshed with fallen-down fence. So much for the quiet earth-connected therapy of gardening. At least the blue salvia of last year’s more optimistic spring has come back. Ah, sweet love was in the air. Brave little flowers, still trying while the paltry efforts of human hearts fall short. As potent reminders of this hope and death routine, they make me ache a little.

But somewhere in that tangle of hope and failure are gardening tools. If I can’t manage to grow new flowers today, maybe I can manage to not grow new weeds. That might give the salvia a chance. After that, how about some marigolds? They are tolerant enough for my kind of gardening.

Which brings me to…my life. What gardening tools can I deploy here? I’d like to do more than beat back weeds with my gifts. How about growing something beautiful? It will take digging and fertilizing, some rain and the sun of inspiration.

There are those books I haven’t read that I want to read, just piled up on the table. There are thoughts I haven’t seen through to the end that need seeing through to the end. There’s writing, loving, living, walking.

There are habits, habits of mind and heart, that are anchoring me in ways I don’t wish to be anchored. No one will pull that anchor back on deck if I don’t. Oh for air in my lungs, dew on my face. For that freedom feeling that made my heart sing when I was a wild girl who lived on a horse and wouldn’t brush her hair for anything.

I long to dig my fingers into the fertile ground of inspiration, to make something. Otherwise I’ll be like the rake whose pebbles were tossed. Or I’ll wait in some veranda space to commit to being in or to being out and miss it all. Here springs some tears, the kind that come when we really get down to it. To what we’ve lost, to where we are, to our longings and strife.

My heart is a bit scuffed up. There are people I love and who Iove me that I seldom see or talk to. There are people that don’t care for me at all who get all of my time and attention. Please like me, see the light in me, tell me I’m okay.

If what we do with our time is indicative of what we love, then I love people who don’t love me. I love limiting thoughts. I love making myself small to be nonthreatening to others. I love accepting the meanest half-love in exchange for the fullness of my willing heart. Or maybe that acceptance is indicative of a deeper unwillingness. There’s that too. In any case, it doesn’t work. I feel my expansive spirit keenly; it lights up in the insomniac predawn and bursts to give of itself, and then I flog it off cheap, or quiet it with down-talk, over and over. That’s not graciousness or humility—it’s fear.

And truly I must love my phone more than my books. And I must love that intestinal knot of power cords in the corner. No, actually—I’m going to fix that first. I’m going to fix that and all of it. Oh, the feeling of tangled cords spewing forth from beneath the sofa is truly a kind of soul gunk. The essence of rake must be desperate to unleash itself in here! The essence of garden-rake wants to unleash itself outside, and the essence of me longs to unleash itself most of all.

We all have our reasons for being, little rake. And I’m reminded that the most sublime flowers spring forth from cracked old earth. All it takes is a seed and some water. Maybe so for this heart too, with some encouragement. Come come, little heart.

I might lie under the water for a few seconds. I’ll contemplate my reasons for being and hear the quiet. Then, those knotted cords…the ones on the outside first. After them, the knots on the inside. For those, I’m going to the sea.

Later, little house.


Author: Dhara Des Fours

Image: Clem Onojeghuo/Unsplash

Editor: Nicole Cameron; Yoli Ramazzina

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