Say Yes to the Mess: A Meta Story

My mess of a desk, proof that I am a genius.

These are chaotic times. Perhaps in an attempt to impose order on the world’s mess, several people I know are decluttering their homes. (This is distinct from cleaning, though that is often required when the removal of clutter reveals a warren of dust bunnies.)

It was in that spirit that I started Marie Kondo-izing my bookshelves last summer. Getting rid of the popular books was fairly easy. There are several Little Libraries in my neighborhood, and donating to the local Friends of the Library has the advantage of raising money for a good cause.

It was not so easy, however, to dispense with the many rarer books that date back to the days when I was researching my NYU dissertation–published as The Collected/Selected Poems of Paul Blackburn—at the University of California, San Diego’s Archive for New Poetry. Under the direction of poet Michael Davidson, the Archive ran an excellent reading series. I met many terrific writers and, naturally, bought their books–or was given them as gifts.

Those books, along with many posters, broadsheets, and quirky little magazines from the era, had sentimental value. How could I part with these materials? How could I justify keeping them?

I finally hit on a solution: I could donate them to the Poetry Center at the University of Arizona, located very close to my home.

Working with the librarians at the Poetry Center was lots of fun; my interview with director Sarah Kortemeier tells the story. The upshot: I still have access to the books but other people can also enjoy them without entering my often-messy home.

A Meta Mess

Which leads me to the meta story.

One of the writer friends I met while I was working on my dissertation in San Diego (but whose books I did not give away and not only because they are not poetry) recently started decluttering her house. She sent me a cache of my old letters to her, which I have not yet opened because I’m afraid I’ll find embarrassing writing detailing painful experiences.

My friend also emailed, via attached scan, a short story that I wrote about messiness, from the days before I used a computer. She added the note, “I enjoyed reading this, think it works very nicely. Why don’t you submit it somewhere?”

The manuscript is not too much of a mess. I revise far more now that it’s easier to do.

I wrote back,

This is very funny for many reasons: I don’t remember writing it or sending it to you (did I send other work?). I like it, but it is very much like a story you would write, not me, so no wonder it appeals! I imagine the influence was unconscious — the same thing happened when I tried to write poetry, years ago, and wrote pieces that were very much in the voice of Paul Blackburn.

She responded,

Yes it’s in my style *but* that wasn’t unconscious. As I remember, you were responding very consciously to the piece I wrote about you. I think mine is called something like “A Friend of Ours” or it begins with those words. It’s about you thinking you’re a messy person but yr friends not perceiving it. And it goes on from there.  So you wrote this in response. I do think it’s well done, though!”

I replied,

Ah, context is all! It’s even coming back to me a bit. I do like it as an exercise but it feels/is too derivative to send out as a piece of original work. I may post it on my blog though, with an explanation. 

And so I did.

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About the Author

Edie Jarolim is a writer and editor living in Tucson, Arizona. Sign up on this blog to get updates about her humorous tell-all/memoir, GETTING NAKED FOR MONEY: An Accidental Travel Writer Reveals All.

2 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Patricia Armstrong says:

    Edie, thank you. Brings back fond memories of my Mom.
    Yesterday morning (before I read this) I attempted a clean up of my very littered outdoor potting area, here in Tucson. Punishment quickly set in, before clean up was complete. In fact, it’s even messier. Allergies. Since noon yesterday, I’ve been sitting inside, beside the air purifier with a box of kleenex. Surveying the clutter of unread and 1/2 read magazines, mail, books and junk. With no energy. Unapologetically.
    Maybe I should get back to writing?!

    • Edie says:

      Haha, thanks for sharing your own mess (and resulting punishment) story. And you definitely should go back to writing!
      Thanks for stopping by. Nice to see your name in my inbox.

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