When we built our house on the side of the mountain we set it so that every room save the pantry, two closets and a bathroom look out over the valley and the mountain on the other side. It was a small house, with only the essential rooms: a "great room," a master suite with the two closets and master bath, and the library, with room (we thought) for our treasured books, and a half-bath primarily so that a sofa bed could turn the library into a guest room. At the time, we had two other houses on the property, one of which was a charming (after my wife finished decorating it) two-over-two cabin we used as a guest house, so our library-cum-guestroom was a kind of after-thought.
An unexpected sequence of events led, before the house was completed, to adding a two-car garage, a workshop, a studio and an office. The office was my special place. After we moved in I discovered that the space I had picked out for my desk and my writing corner was being overtaken by the wall-to-wall bookcases we needed for our books. (I’m in the process of adding shelves in the last un-shelved area of the room now.) So the office became my writing room as well as an office.
At first I wanted enough space for a small desktop and room for my drafting table (which is now in the workshop). The outside wall is mostly window, and the view is very calming and conducive to quiet thinking and creative wordsmithing. The perfect office for me, I thought. Not really. Not today.
In time I built long desktops on two walls, and a flat worktop on a third wall. Then I put in shelves for books that I needed close at hand: dictionaries, books of quotations and other aids writers use. Then shelves for copies of films I had made, books I have written and . . . and a lot of other stuff. What once was a neat, open area without distractions, has become like . . . Well, like every other desk I’ve even had. People who have worked with me over the years will nod in agreement as they recollect the piles of folders, books, miscellaneous papers and everything else that always populated my desk no matter where I worked. I’m organized but messy.
Lately, it seems, I can’t keep ahead of the things that wander into my office, find space on my desktop and work table, even find resting places on the floor under the desk or in front of the under-counter cabinets I built all those years ago. I know what’s in the cabinets, on the shelves, in the drawers. What I don’t know is why. Why I keep the things I keep, why I put things on top of things, why I even think I can work in this cluttered and distracting space.
I keep all of the piles of files and racks of records because they are my history, my research resources, my memory. They are the external backup drives of my long life, of my decades of duty. I call on them sometimes, I draw inspiration, I find comfort in clutter.
Oh, I make attempts to clean up, to rid myself of things I know I don’t need (or even recall why I have them). Not long ago I emptied almost half of my files in the drawers behind me. Years of journals were packed in sealed plastic tubs to be destroyed when I’m no longer here (I can’t do it myself, you see). I could even see the top of my writing desk . . . for a while. Today, I think, I’ll finish the job. I’ll delete the distractions, I’ll dump the detritus, I’ll . . . but I won’t. I know I will not change. Not now. I’ve been at this work too long, worked in this mess forever, evidently find comfort in the distractions. Even finding an essay among the unused words that clutter my notebooks. But I must do something.
Those who can’t discard history are doomed to retain it.