Monday, June 18, 2012

Whether It Needs It or Not

Once every six months, whether it needs it or not, I clean my studio. Yesterday, I awoke with the certitude that the day had arrived. I stood on the indoor balcony, looking down into 625 square feet of grungy chaos and was undaunted. With David riding shotgun, I knew we could prevail.

Every home needs a room like this one; a multipurpose room unafraid to take on major projects. Since the last major cleaning, we have hauled firewood through the space and burned it in the stove, with the concomitant bark, sawdust and ash. David has built emergency bee boxes for our every-growing honeybee community (sawdust, glue and errant screws); an early spring honey harvest left dots of honey on the carpets (honey, stuck-to-honey-dirt, and ants); I began and then abandoned a collage project (snipped bits of paper, generously circulated by wind pouring through open French doors); David started his spring garden starts on the counter (potting soil, seed packets, water stains); I stored my geraniums inside, against the winter storms (more potting soil and water stains, plus dead leaves); and David uses the work table as a desk (bills, books, drill bits, nails, spare change, garden hats, more seed packets and the detritus of his pocket bottoms) and the couch as a second closet (dirty clothes, clean clothes in unfolded heaps, various pairs of shoes and boots parked randomly beneath or in front).

One corner houses a wooden studio easel with a painting now almost a year old. That project came to a screeching halt when I became determined to finish Fiesta of Smoke. There was a stack of framed paintings and unused frames forming a bulwark around the easel. Stone carving tools lay in a heap on the counter, where I piled them just before rain fell on my outdoor sculpture stand, last fall. Five Victorian chairs, brought from storage for Christmas celebrations, still huddled in a furtive herd behind the grand piano, blocking access to the keyboard. Chopin’s waltzes still rest on the music rack, even though low G went sour sometime in the cold snap of January, rendering the piano unplayable. Exercise equipment—a weight bench and hand weights, a weight machine, treadmill and trampoline—had a nice patina of dust, threaded with spider web. And the skylight, rising 25 feet above the whole scene of Dickensian, Havishamish ruin, is an insect death trap, supplying a steady rain of crumpled bugs to the Persian carpet, below.

I had my work cut out for me.

I wrapped my head in a scarf, both against the clouds of dirt about to be stirred up and the sweat that was about to cascade. The studio thermometer registered 94, as I descended the stairs, broom in hand, to do battle. David was there to help. We decided to do a Shaker thing, and hang the extra chairs from the trusses. As I vacuumed the rugs, he brought in a ladder and drilled holes and inserted dowels and hung chairs. Then I re-vacuumed the rugs to get up the sawdust. He sorted and folded his wardrobe and ferried it off to the actual closet and dresser drawers, while I vacuumed some more. He discovered a box of old videos under the weight bench. Since the VCR has taken a peculiar turn, in which it plays films in random segments out of order, which was modestly entertaining in a surreal sort of way, the first two times around but simply annoying, thereafter, we decided both videos and VCR could go. Then, while I was vacuuming some more, the TV disappeared. Since it only has a 14-inch screen and could no longer serve to receive television programs, since the stations changed their signals, it won’t be missed, either.

Morning proceeded into afternoon in this fashion. I discovered things long lost, stored things too long exposed and removed probably a gallon of detritus from the floor. In the process, I found that about two thousand dollars in tube paints had been consumed by a rat. My first clue was finding yellow, red, blue and green rat pellets in the cupboard under the counter. Then, I found the trays of what used to be oil and acrylic paints, now containing a confetti of shredded metal from the tubes. I tried to imagine the desperation of some poor old wood rat, reduced in the middle of winter to gnawing on a tube of vermillion or geranium lake. How could he survive such fare? Still, I was grieved by the ruin of my paint stash, as I was by the dead hummingbird, trapped between the window and my big wooden case of Rembrandt pastels.

I have spared you photos from the outset of the day, although they would probably have been more entertaining than those orderly ones with which I now present you. I find I like being in a room with pendant chairs. And I’m motivated to actually use my exercise equipment, now that I don’t have spiders riding along with me on the treadmill. I’m going to enjoy the studio, today. Maybe I’ll even paint at the easel, since my acrylic jar paints remain unconsumed.

But I have to hurry because, as Robert Frost so aptly said, nothing gold can stay. I know that there’s a hair’s breadth of time before the next wave of industry and creativity turns the place into chaos, again. Already, I have followed a trail of small white bits of paper from the dryer in the utility room, through the library, across the studio carpet and into David’s closet, the tracks of a Kleenex that died a terrible death by first water, then heat. Also, a dead butterfly, victim of the killing fields in the skylight, has landed on the work table, bearing a streamer of spider web. This is life in the country. Entropy being what it is, I’ll have to repeat yesterday’s heroic measures in another six months. Until then, imagine me playing Chopin, with the G key taped down, butterflies wafting through the French doors, and 5 Victorian chairs hanging over me like the sword of Damocles.

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