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Jean-Baptiste-Siméon Chardin:
The Attributes of the Arts and the Rewards Which Are Accorded Them

" … I tidy until my soul can breathe again."

I think of myself as reasonably fastidious but lapse a lot in practice. My garage serves as my center, the abiding indicator of my general well-being. For many, their desktop serves this purpose, the clutter or absence of it the reliable outward sign of an inward orderliness. My desktop has never not been an apparent disaster, yet I can place a finger on anything teetering there faster than I can recover anything anywhere. Obvious clutter does not necessarily speak to internal disorderliness except in the case of my garage or, as I refer to it, my Garge.

Being the absolute center of my universe, my Garge says most about my mental health.
It's a crazy building, the floor cracked and anything but level, victim to an overly enthusiastic swamp elm that once attempted to take over the universe from beneath its foundation. That elm broke the building's back, well, that and a prior owner who apparently took a Saws-all® to the back wall to make room for an oversized Oldsmobile's nose. Our carpenter and I replaced that back wall last Summer with a sturdy foundation and siding boards from the mid-eighteen sixties. I painted it to match, leaving that one wall intact. The other three remain messy inside and out, though only one wall remains the original white color, but it’s squeezed in between our neighbor's place, which was built about eighteen inches from that Garge wall. Nobody will ever accidentally stumble into that narrow alleyway to notice I haven't finished painting there.

The inside of the Garge serves several purposes. It holds yard tools on funny hangers along one wall and two tall sets of shelves for storing essential clutter. I keep a long table there to serve as the center, though that's often so overfilled with project remnants as to render it useless. My workbench runneth over with those tools and clutter I feel an immediate need to have at hand, even those I haven't touched in years. I still haven't set up my grinding wheel and vice, which should sit on either leading corner of that workbench. They're stored in one of the many cat litter boxes which hold otherwise unclassifiable odds and ends: my splitting wedges, drip irrigation fittings leftover from a Colorado project I finished five summers past, a cold chisel and sledge.

Predominant in the building, though, must be the Garge refrigerator. It's a classic Frigidaire, spotted with paint splatter from past overly-energetic paint can closings. Its primary purpose has always been to keep beer barely above freezing, so it’s set at 33 degrees Fahrenheit in every season. The Garge remains unheated, and its only light comes from three frosted windows and an ancient florescent, which, being plugged into an outlet conveniently located on the ceiling, is always on. A soft light spills across the back lawn every evening. I think of that light as welcoming.

The Garge had degraded into a derelict state, that refrigerator grown stinky and sticky from a thawing incident last winter. The Muse insisted that those bags of frozen cherries it contained had achieved obsolescence and should be added to the compost pile. I cleaned the Garge yesterday, an act of love rather like DIY open heart surgery. I pulled everything out and then hosed down walls and floors. I poured some industrial cleaner on the floor and energetically mopped it in before hosing out the foam. I even scrub-brushed the worst spots. It's better, and my world seems tamer this morning, knowing that my center has been cleaned of the worst clutter.

I will now commence with the recluttering process, for clutter works like tides. I can occasionally tidy the place but never permanently. As soon as it's clean, the universe starts conspiring to place items that have no natural place in there and so must be jury-rigged into place. It only takes a few of these operations before my Garge becomes unrecognizable again, a place of shame rather than pride. The resulting clutter affects my performance. It becomes my secret shame, an impotence. My center compromised; I hardly know myself. I become an alien presence until one morning when I decide I've had enough of my self-imposed third-class existence and set to tidy up my center. It's long-cycle respiration. The clutter accretes until I'm suffocating before I tidy until my soul can breathe again.

©2023 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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