Last week my youngest came through the front door and headed straight to the electronic heaven/hell that we recently moved to my oldest’s bedroom.  (It’s a small house.  If you take up residence somewhere else for nine months, you should expect to find your space modified when you get back.)  I wandered in after him and asked, “Do you like the living room?”

“Huh?” he said.  “Sure.  I told you already.” He did, with some effort, provide a little eye contact as he waited for his game to load.

“So you noticed it’s different?” I said as I leaned against the doorjamb.

“You moved some stuff to the cabinet where the TV used to be,” he said with confidence.

He was referring to Stage One of Moving the Television Out of the Living Room, which had played out the week before.  We rarely watch TV and the boys had mentioned that they wanted a place with a little more privacy to play games with their friends.  We consulted the oldest about moving the TV to his room. (I have forbidden TV in their rooms, so they must all think I’m either softening or losing my mind.) He said, “Yeah, sure.”

I looked calmly and steadily at my youngest, his thumb poised over the controller.  He began to squirm a little.

“I moved the entire room around,” I said.  “Every single piece of furniture is in a new place.” I smiled. “You walked right through and didn’t notice.”

He’s the youngest, as I mentioned, so he knows how these things go down.  He put the controller on the floor and said, “Oh, let’s go look!”

Do not for a moment think that this was a reflection of his interest, or even good breeding. What he knew was that this was where I was headed and it would be much faster to look, comment politely and get back to his game.

I had moved the furniture around late one night.  There’s only one long wall and, while the television resided in this room, that was the only place for it to live.  This meant the sofa had to be across from it, which meant the sofa was in front of the window.  Rosie and Dexter loved this as it made a perfect perch for watching squirrels and the mailman. They know dogs are not allowed on the sofa, but if you put it right under the front window, well, what do you expect? I wasn’t happy with this arrangement.  Moving the television meant that I could make sense of this room and how it wanted to be. I could create a little order.

 Moving the sofa, chairs, chest and tables myself is such a normal activity that it’s not worth mentioning.  I slid them all around a few times until I thought I’d sorted it out.  The problem was that the completely full bookcase in the back corner needed to move to the other side of the room.  I thought, with great confidence, that I may be able to slide it.  I wrapped my fingers around the supports of the lower shelf, the cool edges pressing into the pads of my fingers, and pulled.  Of course, it did not budge.

This was late in the game, well after midnight, and I was starting to get testy.  Still, I wanted it settled before I went to bed. I decided to begin taking books from the top shelf and work my way down until I’d removed enough to be able to slide the piece.  Grabbing books by the handful or pressing sections between my hands, feeling the muscles across my shoulder blades contract, I began to pile books on the sofa.  With every clean shelf I would try to move the bookcase again.  When only the books on the bottom shelf remained, it relinquished its grip on the southeast corner and slid four inches north.

Once I had the bookcase in place, I turned back to the sofa and the piles of books upon it.  All the books that I keep mean something to me, but I’m less attached to the ones in the living room.  The books that matter most are in my bedroom and they are as important to me as my jewelry.  The books in the living room are not worn or dog-eared.  Either I need them as companions, or I believe I will read them again, or I think I will loan them to a friend. I always arrange them the same way.  It’s not so much by genre, as how they relate in my mind: the books I loved in childhood, fiction and biographies that touched a nerve, a smattering of mysteries.

I did not have the energy to sort all that out at one o’clock in the morning, nor did I want to leave a mess. I piled them back on the shelves willy nilly and that is how they remain.  The youngest did not comment on this as he surveyed the new arrangement.  He either didn’t notice (which is likely) or was in a hurry to return to his game (which is certain).  “This is great,” he said.  “Before, you saw the TV first thing when you walked in and it made it seem like we are about TV, which we’re not.  This is better.”  Then he headed back to defeat his virtual enemy, unaware of the irony.

All week I’ve thought I would pile the books on the sofa and begin to logically sort them back on the shelves.  Yesterday, my mood as grey as the weather, I sat and looked at their disorderly piles.  The rest of the room is twinned.  I tend to buy pairs and this leads to a case of over-symmetry that I always have to work to stir up.

In my gloom, I decided to leave the bookcase as it is. Not because I lacked the motivation, but because it’s more interesting like this.  The comfortable memories of childhood rest upon mysteries.  Love stories touch tragedy.  Enduring works mix with entertaining nonsense that will soon be forgotten.  Everything is still there and I will be able to find what I’m after. Perhaps it’s better to show a little chaos rather than lining everything up in neat rows.

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13 thoughts on “Jumbled

  1. I've just spent the weekend moving things around. My better half is out of town and there's no better time to experiment (because I can put things back in case it doesn't fit or look nice, without the grumbles). Moving things around comes naturally to me, and I'm training my 6 year old boy to enjoy this as well. One must be happy in a room and if shifting things around brings that happiness and order, well, one must do it!

  2. "What he knew was that this was where I was headed and it would be much faster to look, comment politely and get back to his game." Isn't that the very cornerstone of good breeding, knowing how to navigate tricky social interactions? I say good job Mrs. B!

  3. I am in agreement with you on the bookshelf-mine are always in a state of chaos even though I try, every once in a while, to make order. Order never lasts, because life isn't static.. and we do use our books!
    I'm so happy to see my favorite Le Lac curtains back in a 'good place'.Mine too always give me a happy feeling when I see them upstairs in our bedroom but I wished I could move them downstairs. Not as easy as moving bookshelves 🙂
    Have a wonderful Sunday!

  4. I love this. One because it is so much my life. Move the furniture by myself? Always. A skateboard is handy for bringing heavy items from room to room. Two because it exactly expresses teenage boys. They can pull the appropriate comments out of thin air when necessary even if it is only a means to an end. Three because a little chaos is real. A life lived, not a life styled. Both are good but the balance is necessary.
    Lovely writing.
    And after 10 years in our house I finally allowed a TV into our main sitting area downstairs. Coincidence that I moved to another state 4 months later, leaving the husband and son to their giant TV that takes over the space and people in it? Probably not.

  5. Good job with that boy! His Social IQ is clearly VERY high!

    I solved the TV problem when we were living part of the year in a dorm apt in Maine, where my husband was teaching. Needless to say, the living room was quite small and it was the only place to put the TV unless we wanted it in the bedroom, which we most definitely did not.

    Over the years, when I look at the ads in the back of the UK vs of House & Garden, there have been ads for a skirted table with glides built in to the edge of the top. These are for what the English call "bedsitters" and we call "efficiencies". They're quite inexpensive but shipping would be exorbitant. Plus it would mean having a skirt made that was in fact, curtains, with proper headings. Beyond my sewing skills!

    So, necessity being the mother of invention, I came up with an inexpensive solution. I bought a 30" black melamine bookcase at Staples. I cut a hole in the cardboard back for the back of the TV. This was 25 yrs ago – with flat screens, this is no longer necessary. Then I went to the local Big Box store and bought a 30" round table kit. I threw away the legs, and removed the metal pieces into which they screwed. Then I glued/nailed the round table top to the book case.

    I then made a plain old simple round table skirt, very easy to make. When I want to watch TV, I lift up the front of the skirt and drape it over the front half of the table – yes, right over some of the things that live there. It takes about a week to get used to the TV being low, but for those of a certain age, we were used to console TVs that were equally low to the ground. Frankly, it's much easier on ones neck that those flat screened TVs now mounted above fireplaces!

    Both my daughter and I have continued using these skirted tables to hide the TVs in our libraries to this day. People walk in and say, "Don't you have a TV?" in horror! Yes, I do but it's just not the focal point of my room.

    BTW, one of these will often hold a 32" TV, depending on the TV brand. Not big screen but big enough for Masterpiece Theatre!

  6. i love it! I'm so glad you don't 'color block' your bookshelves. A. how do you find anything? b. who has the time to do that? and c. it looks so dumb and gimmicky.

  7. Dearest Patricia,
    No doubt there are times when with your busy schedule you have neither the time nor the inclination to write, but should you ever doubt the worthiness of your writing, I wanted you aware of its ripple effect.

    I have four very dear friends. Two are recently widowed, one is battling cancer, the fourth is depressed. All four love receiving real mail in their mailboxes.

    When you write, I print the story with your name, reducing it to the size of a small notecard. I add a brief handwritten note, especially if you've written something relative to them —such as, her husband might have a cow but maybe moving furniture at midnight would ease depressed's insomnia.

    It only requires a couple of hours and brings me joy.

    So you see? Without even knowing it, you have made five other people happy.

    Thank you.

    Gail, in Northern California

  8. One thing I've learned in my 66 years: boys aren't really that complicated. One male writer refers to this condition as the "reptilian brain" which cracks me up. My husband concurs with the analysis. Your son shows admirable restraint and affection, and that boyness of figuring out how to get the job done with the least amount of energy and drama. It will serve him well.

    For 40 years we've never had a tv downstairs and now in our remodel we're putting one in the library/dining room!!! Still can't believe it. Mostly because we watch movies, PBS or sports…and coming downstairs for another glass of wine is getting to be less enjoyable!

    ps: totally off topic~I've just finished reading Nora Webster by Colm Toibin and thought you might enjoy this novel. Nora reminds me of you in all of the best ways. I always put my books in a rather haphazard mess and often where they end up amuses me.

  9. Our books are the most jumbled mess: titles and genres and authors and time all jutting up against one another. Last winter I decided to scan them all into a book app (I was encouraged by someone who lives here and is far more organized than me). Scan away I went but in the end there was no more organization, just a wonderful record of all the books, with notes and comments included. I'm still scanning, but not sorting. Your piles of books charm me.

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