House and Booked Notes

House and Booked Notes March 4, 2017


Turns out cleaning the house from top to bottom was of useful long term benefit to all the people who live here. It has never before been true that all of the portions of the house have been clean at the same time. If you clean one room–and put all the things away–while you’re doing that some other room is being dismantled piece by piece, and dirt is being purposefully carried in and distributed into every possible corner. This causes for me, among other things, rage laden depression. You do something worthwhile in one place, and then you go into the next place and have to start all over again, and while you’re doing that what you did in the first place is undone. Sisyphean, if you know what I mean.

So after the initial ginormous clean where we cleaned all the things that could be cleaned, we followed that up with three or four long lectures and one screaming tantrum (that was me, the tantrum part). ‘Look,’ I pleaded, with tears in my eyes, ‘Put Your Stuff Away! If you just put your stuff away every time we will never be faced with a week long cleaning project, at least not akin to the trauma we just all endured. Please, just put your stuff away.’ I wandered around after every single child for the whole week making them come back, over and over and over, to put their stuff away. Shoes on the floor? The child had to come back and pick them up. Glass on the counter? Someone has to own up to it and put it in the sink. Beds not made? Everyone had to go back upstairs and make them. Dishwasher not unloaded? We all waited until it was done and then trudged up three flights to the school room. Pencils on the floor? We didn’t go down to cope with lunch until every single one was put away.

All week, without exception, I made them come back again and again. And…it was magic! Problem solved! Everyone is perfect now!
Just kidding.
I think I have to keep doing this for another six months, if I’m honest. At the very least I’m making it my Lenten discipline. The discipline part is that I’ve decided to try not to yell. I am going to both consistently call the child back to pick up the item, and I’m going to do it without yelling.

So guess who discovered, on the second day of Lent, some serious anger issues tucked away for safe keeping.

This is why evangelicals need to stop knocking Lent. Do we really need fewer opportunities to discover our own personal darkness? Does your freedom in Christ and your awesome Lord’s Day theology bring you, in most powerfully depressing terms, to face the devastating reality of how very very far distant you are from the perfection of God? I am both free in Christ and I have an abiding dependence of the worship of the church on Sunday morning. I can’t cope without it. Lent is not a law for me. Of course I can know the need for and gift of forgiveness every day. Of course. But it is very useful to set aside certain times for penitent reflection on one’s own state, and to do it in a more intense way for certain periods of the year when the church as a whole is meditating together on the bitterness of the desert, the wilderness of the human experience with God.

Anyway, this year’s War on Lent is still boiling my onion. It’s not papist to observe the church year. It’s a rich and useful exercise.

But let me get back to my original point which is that it’s completely fabulous to have a clean house. Because the house Is Clean, keeping it clean takes a quarter of the time it normally takes to clean it. Truth be told, I am still not full of audacious and powerful physical health. I am, by tiny increments, doing a little bit more physical activity every week. My thyroid, indicated by another hundred vials of blood, seems to be recalibration itself in a glacially slow but positive manner. This means that I still really do have to lie down in the middle of every day, but that I can also keep the laundry going, do school, and cook one or two non taxing meals a week. But I can also pause in my gentle progress from one room to another to call the children back to put their stuff away. (And when I say ‘stuff’ I hope you’re hearing the more colorful word that I don’t want to use because this is a family blog but that occasionally is heard in common parlance.)

Which brings me to the good bit. This week, because of the house being clean, I’ve been able to do my part and then sit down in the afternoons and read for a whole hour. I’m not kidding you. Even with Ash Wednesday and pancakes on Tuesday. I have Literally been able to Sit Down and read Whole Pages of An Actual Book.

I kept coming back every day to Booked, by Karen Swallow Prior. It’s so good. It gives the illusion of gentle literary analysis, intermingled with real life–literature and life inextricably tangled together–but at the end of every chapter I find I’m teary, and shattered, in the right kind of way. Don’t know if I’m going to be able to face Great Expectations, or Charlotte’s Web, or Jane Eyre but at least now I feel really guilty for not having read them. How clever of me that I, for the last forty years, have been able to so studiously avoid those major works of English literature that are necessary for all people to read. I managed to get through adolescence, out there in the hot African savanna, with a variety of lesser known works that similarly shaped my imagination, but did so without any suspense or drama at all. My question, though, is how did I toil through and enjoy Bleak House over many dank sleepless nights but then repeatedly put down Great Expectations? I don’t really want an answer to that question.

The point being that the marvelous thing about Booked is that you inevitably go traipsing back through your own childhood and life to consider what it was you read and thought that was so crucial to your mental and emotional furniture now. Which is different than say, An American Childhood, which nostalgic vision is so bright and perfectly crafted that it leaves you feeling jealous of Annie Dillard, jealous that you couldn’t write like her nor have her most fascinating Pittsburgh growing up. Or maybe it’s not you I’m talking about, maybe it’s me. Booked, on the other hand, just when you begin to slip into a nostalgic and golden haze, with a single word or phrase, compels you back towards reality, even in the past. It more truly reflects the jumbled and troubled way that life really is, especially when you consider how messy the reading mind is, more than any other memoir I’ve read. You should read it, especially since you can get it on sale on kindle right now.

I was going to say something about watching the Brady Bunch but this is already too long and I must go calmly tell the children to pick up their…stuff. Have a lovely day!

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