Friday, January 22, 2010

Thus Said Method To The Madness

Every three to four years or so, the Missus shoehorns me into letting her take a ride with me to my office. Without fail we go at a time when we are closed for business since her interest in seeing what I do is significantly less than her interest in seeing the level of self-created disarray in which I do it.

Use whatever dictionary you like and you inevitably find my little retreat as an acceptable definition of the word "mess". I am not in need of a Hoarders-style Intervention - although I fear I might have just given the A&E Network a cross-promotional idea for a show that none of us needs to see - but given that I tend to be in and out of a lot of matters on a given day I end up having to be in and out of a lot of different files, which tends to give rise to various little piles of papers all over my chairs, my book shelves - not to mention that mini-sized cafeteria table I swiped from an unoccupied office last summer. I used to take umbrage at people describing my work space without using words such as "orderly" or "pristine". I do not wear my tendency towards apparent chaos like a badge of honor but I am a realist. I am resigned to the fact that I am who I am and what I am. And what I most decidedly am not is the keeper of a neat office.

Fortunately for me (and likely less so for those around me) my mind is markedly less cluttered than the space that the body to which it finds itself irrevocably and eternally chained ever seems to be, which is why on a Friday in late January I find myself thinking about what I was doing at or about this time last year. At this juncture in my life twelve months back my office looked passably close to immaculate. The walls were bare, the shelves of my bookcases were neat, tidy and for the most part free of occupants and most of the files upon which I had worked were filed away in the filing cabinets.

While I cannot recall for certain that I did, I would wager $1.00 that on the day last January that occupied the calendar spot that this very day presently occupies this January I spent most of my working day reviewing files that I was preparing to say good bye to and preparing transfer memos for the attorneys who were going to be taking over the handling of them. My office was neat because most of its contents were already boxed. They were - as I was - preparing to change addresses.

Fast approaching the anniversary of the end of the first incarnation of my employment here at the Firm, I have realized that while I was packed to leave, I was not prepared to leave. The subtlety of that distinction - lost on me at this time in Aught-Nine - became apparent soon thereafter. And while I initially feared that the dawning of this day of self-awareness had come one too late for me to realize anything from it, it did not.

If the fates conspire to afford you only sufficient time to read one more thing before you do, then stop reading this silliness immediately and get yourself seated with a copy of Pete Hamill's extraordinary Downtown: My Manhattan. While I can argue quite persuasively that there is not a page between its front cover and its back that is not worth considerably more than the paper on which it was printed, there are countless passages within it that take the extraordinary to another level altogether. Included among them is Hamill's examination of the none-too-subtle distinction between nostalgia and sentimentality, "Sentimentality is always about a lie. Nostalgia is about real things gone. Nobody truly mourns a lie."

I developed a far better understanding of the distinction of which he spoke when just about this time last year I flipped the light switch on the wall of the office that was no longer mine to the "off" position, revealing in the darkness walls now freed from a decade's worth of accumulated debris and appearing almost to be illuminated and walked down the stairs and out the back door for what I believed then would be the final time and stacked the last of my neatly-packed boxes in the trunk of my car. I would spend the next several months in another office located in another building. During that time I took note of the fact that I did an excellent job of keeping my new digs - even when I was busy and working on substantial matters - uncluttered. Hell, neat would have been a fair way to describe it.

But I realized then what I know now to be true. Clutter is a necessary element in my life. It is part of whatever fabric holds me together. During the time I was there and not here I had not eliminated the clutter. I had simply relocated it. Instead of being outside of me where I could see it and respond to it, it was inside of me. I could no longer see it. But when I closed my eyes, it no longer disappeared.

It took a little while but eventually this one-trick pony found his way. I have never been mistaken for the sharpest knife in the cutlery drawer but sooner or later I got around to figuring it out. That is why I shall spend a portion of this chilly January Friday morning as a lawyer and not as an office packer - in court making an argument for a client. And when my work there is completed I will return to my humble, messy little abode and start working my way through the day's "must get to" projects while determining what on the stack can be held at bay until tomorrow morning...and what will command top billing on Monday's early morning "to do" list.

In DOWNTOWN: MY MANHATTAN's first chapter, "The Capital of Nostalgia" Hamill writes of the various times during his life spent living in cities other than Manhattan but that even when he was somewhere else, his soul remained in New York, "In unexpected ways they each taught me something about New York, its strengths and terrible flaws, its irritations and its triumphs, the way learning another language teaches you about your own. But in spite of their many seductions, I always knew I would go home."

Home - a hell of a nice place to end every journey; eh?


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