rearranging deck chairs

a Titanic deck chair, public domain from the canadian encyclopedia

April 14th was the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, so I’ve had the Titanic on the brain. The New Yorker published a great article on why the Titanic story continues to hold us in thrall (and p.s. it’s by one of my favorite critics/non-fiction writers/translators of C.P. Cavafy, Daniel Mendelsohn). There are 1,001 or more interesting stories, ideas, and social issues to ponder vis-a-vis the Titanic. But mostly I’ve been thinking about the old adage describing futility: It’s like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

No to make light of that horrible event, but rearranging deck chairs is what I did all weekend. If you’ve been reading along, you know we’re moving house in a few weeks. While Husband packed up my bookshelves (this, Reader, is an act of compassion on his part; I hate not having my books around and he knew I was procrastinating on this task), I went through my recipe file and reorganized it. That’s right, I spent most of the day on Saturday on a low-priority task that, in the face of the monumental task of packing up an entire house, was completely unnecessary. But look:

from this

(every poet needs a few poems in her recipe binder)

to this. And, uh, yes, I have a bit of a tortured relationship with The Joy of Cooking, and with the joy of cooking.

During the process, I took many trips down memory lane remembering the person I got a recipe from, reading little notes from my mom jotted in the margin of a recipe for this or that. I enjoyed a happy flush of familiarity at seeing both of my grandmothers’ handwriting again, and now with enough distance, from remembering kitchen disasters like the time my boys “made daddy a birthday cake” when I was busy doing something else, probably laundry or changing the baby. Making daddy a birthday cake involved shaking a full bag of powdered sugar all over the kitchen. Fun times, Reader, fun times… .

I also discovered a silver lining in the cloud of to-do lists (with which I also have a tortured relationship). I came across a list from 2004 when I had just two little boys and lived in “our old house before our last old house” (as the kids call it). It was so fun to remember those times, friends from the neighborhood, and events on the horizon at the time, like a dear friend’s wedding. So, in the end, maybe I come down on the side of to-do lists for nostalgia’s sake, if nothing else.

I found notes and photos of dear friends, and a little book my awesome friend and talented book-artist, Sarah, made for me with the text of the Desiderata. My favorite part: “And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should. Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be, and whatever your labours and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful.”

I also found a little wooden box full of small slips of paper that I had written prayers on and slipped inside. I had to laugh when I dumped the slips out to read them. They all said the exact same thing: Please help me find time to write. Sometimes with the PLEASE in all caps and double underlined. Over and over again, the same prayer/request/plea. Then, the only variant: one small slip that read “thanks.”

So, I think this post is a long winded praise song, a Monday installation of Thankful Thursday. This is the bright side of moving: having a chance to remember and cherish and laugh and, okay, I admit it, to cry, too. Last spring when we were preparing to move here, I was way too overwhelmed to enjoy it. I’m glad to be able to enjoy it this time.

Whatever you’re sorting through, digging through, or rearranging this week, I hope you can enjoy it, too.

10 thoughts on “rearranging deck chairs

  1. Doing some of this digging, sorting, and etc as the end of the semester nears. I do find it enjoyable and like to think back over the year as I go through the papers and piles. Good luck to you on your larger scale project.

    • It makes me wonder — what will people do in the coming years when there are no (or few) paper calendars, letters, to-do lists, etc? Will there be a similar process for electronic files? But something about touching the paper and seeing the handwriting feels important to me. Thanks for the good luck wishes — good luck back to you for a smooth and rewarding end of the semester!

      • Such coincidence. At work, we are shifting email servers and we have to winnow our email folders down to the last three years and a minor amount of “important” stuff from before that. (I’m sure the heads of state around here don’t have to comply but the plebeians do.) In any case, I started deleting some last night and saw the names of students from the past go flitting by, sometimes sparking a memory of a face, a laugh, or a conversation. And then they were gone. Poof.

  2. I found a stack of memories this afternoon in a long-unopened box. It was lovely, though I was trying to purge and didn’t really.

    Organizing your recipes is not at all a deck-chair exercise, especially when moving. It’ll be much easier to find a quick after a day of unpacking and you’ll save time in the long run. Plus, the important thing: savouring the memories. Enjoyimng oneself like that is worth more than a packed box.

    • Synchronicity! Yes, I kept telling myself as I worked “this will save time in the long run,” but Husband had his doubts 🙂

  3. Yay to the joy and praise. As to the joy/Joy of cooking/Cooking, right there with you. Also, I used it today to make banana bread.

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