Sunday, August 21, 2011

The Value of Space

A couple of dozen periodicals make their way into my home on a regular basis, ranging from fifty times a year for Time to four times a year for the excellent Notre Dame Magazine -- tracing back to when we had a Notre Dame student living here. There is good reading in those pages. A few come unsolicited, but we pay good money for most of them.

There is also good reading on the internet as well as many more books on my reading list than I can read. And my life is full of duty and responsibility. Time for reading is limited and the magazines often get pushed aside unread. Or I read them and find value in them and feel as though I should preserve them. This leads to piles of back issues cluttering the house.

Over the past 31 years of living at this address, I have come to realize that clutter-free space has value in and of itself. Now I face the question of the value of magazine back issues versus the value of reclaiming the space they occupy. The obvious answer is that the space should win. After all, new magazines arrive every week. Keeping back issues doesn't make sense from a household ecology point of view. The only way to avoid being overwhelmed by material goods is for the amount of stuff going out to equal the amount of stuff coming in.

Still, it's hard to give them up. What if I have missed a wonderful article on braiding garlic in Organic Gardening or will someday want to refer back to that article by Eugene Peterson in Christianity Today? Do I still have the issue where the Notre Dame Magazine presented such a balanced discussion of illegal immigration?

What all this adds up to is the personal insight that I could easily become a "hoarder". You know, one of those people who are gradually buried alive by all the stuff they can't bear to discard. Someone who, when retirement and solitary living frees up their hours, spends their time clipping articles and organizing them into extensive files for their children to discard after they are gone.

Okay, the magazines have to go. Yes, there will be a sense of history lost for a while. I'll need to nurture my appreciation for the beautiful uncluttered space they leave behind and convince myself it is truly of greater value than the printed words I discard.

At least I have never subscribed to National Geographic. That magazine must be collected more than any other. (My evidence for that is the multiple offers we have had at the library from people hoping to regain space in their homes by offering the library the wonderful opportunity of becoming custodian of their collections.)

Still, it's hard to give up all those beautiful words. Who knows when Organic Gardening will publish another article on braiding garlic? If I ever manage to grow garlic and find myself interested in braiding it will I be able to figure out how to do it? Sure, I could just go here and find out in much less time than digging through the files, but I'm just old-fashioned enough for the paper file approach to tug at me and slow my steps as I carry old magazines to the recycling bins. Only sucking it up and nurturing an appreciation for clean lines and uncluttered space will enable me to do it.

Back to cleaning. There's a wedding on the near horizon that will bring us house guests and should provide some incentive for sprucing up the place. Maybe I can even persuade myself to give up the magazines.

Sunday, August 14, 2011


I started playing the piano at age 5. In third grade the music teacher had me play a Bach Two-Part Invention and explained to the class that they were seeing something unusual. I was surprised by her words. Sure, I didn't know anyone else my age who could play what I could play, but just figured I didn't know what my classmates did outside the classroom.

By high school, music was what made me special, my identity. Then, in my 20s, I moved into an environment where my musical ability was more of a relational liability than an asset. Rather than force the issue, I reluctantly moved on to other interests. Music was no longer a part of who I was. I was an engineer for a few years, then a full-time mother, and later a librarian.

In 2004 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. After the initial shock of hearing the "C" word wore off, I decided I would not join the ranks of people for whom "cancer survivor" is part of their identity. I am not a "cancer survivor" any more than I am a "chicken pox survivor". Cancer is simply one part of my medical history. I had a lumpectomy and five weeks of radiation treatment but treated it as just a small bump in my life.

Now it is 2011. In February, I heard the "C" word again. This time my left kidney was the site of cancer. No relationship to the first cancer. Again, surgery took care of the problem, this time without further treatment, and I declined to allow cancer to define me.

On a Friday evening in mid-June, I noticed I was unsteady on my feet. The next day I developed double vision. That led to a new diagnosis tracing back to a case of optic neuritis I had in 1996. The optic neuritis was a sclerosis. The latest MRIs show that I now have more than one sclerosis. In fact, I have multiple sclerosis. MS.

Now it is time to consider my identity once again. There will be no surgery to put MS behind me. It is a lifetime companion. At the moment, I have no more symptoms than before the problems that cropped up for a few days in June and were resolved with the help of steroids. Shall I become an active participant in the MS community or shall I ignore this unwelcome companion as much as possible? What place do I want to give it in my life during this time when it's still invisible to others?

It has been a while since I have grappled with "who am I?" questions. It will be interesting to see how much of my focus MS manages to grab as it becomes a constant companion. I guess if it starts to take over my life I'll at least have a focus for my blog after all this time.