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.