OC, forget about the D

Neat people get a bad rap in the arts. Still, I think it’s the best way to work.

Bathtime, by Carol L. Douglas
“What my mother would love the most for her birthday,” my daughter once announced, “is for me to go to her house and throw something away.” Immediately, my in-box lit up with suggestions for help with my hoarding problem.
That wasn’t what Mary was saying. In fact, I’m ruthless about order. Buying me something would be a waste of time and money.
I came home from Nova Scotia to ants. There were three different sizes, all darting around the kitchen. “There’s no food lying out,” protested my husband when I suggested that scrubbing might help.
Still life, by Carol L. Douglas
A concatenation of events led to the breakdown of our household standards. I was traveling. Our washing machine is broken, and the new one has been on back-order for weeks. Kids flitted home for the summer. The elderly dog’s incontinence is now the norm.
My husband is also what we currently call a ‘creative’ (he writes software). He purports to be unaffected by disorder. I’m skeptical. Popular wisdom tells us that creatives are messier than average. That doesn’t mean they ought to be.
I can paint without vacuuming the pillbugs in the basement, even though I know they’re there. But if there’s unopened mail or laundry that needs to be folded; I need to deal with it immediately, before I go in my studio.
Still life, by Carol L. Douglas
I haven’t always been this way. The public rooms in my childhood home were neat; the upstairs was a mess. My mother worked full time, had a big house, and raised a slew of kids. I did the same thing, with the same results.
My siblings and I were diagnosed as ‘hyperactive’. Teachers said my kids were ADHD. Too late, I realized that they should really be tagged “children of an over-committed mother.” I started being more tyrannical about cleaning.
Tracey Emin may not be my favorite artist, but she was right when she pointed out that “there are good artists that have children. Of course there are. They are called men.” The amount of work needed to raise children and pursue a career as an artist is overwhelming. It’s even more complicated when your work and living space are jumbled together.
Still life, by Carol L. Douglas
Our ancestors had to be neater than we are. They didn’t live in a throwaway culture. Tools were treasured, so they were oiled and put back as soon as they were used. Spending on food and clothing went from consuming half the family budget in 1900 to less than a fifth in 2000. When something took so much work and effort to acquire, one didn’t treat it lightly.
Today we all wallow in stuff. Many young people have told me they think they’re OCD. That’s just something they say when experiencing the strange compulsion to clean for the first time. “No,” I reply, “you’re anxious because neat is your normal state, but you haven’t embraced it yet. Go clean your room.” Many of those kids haven’t internalized that ‘perfect is the enemy of good,’ nor have they learned how to be organized.
The downside of having a studio in your house is that you can’t just go to the office to escape your home. I struggled through last week, tired and barely meeting my obligations. Finally, on Saturday, we gave the place a thorough cleaning. Suddenly, my energy and the urge to be creative are back again. Fancy that.