I: Steam, Mirror, Paper
The first two things I took over to the new apartment were the electric kettle and the disco ball.
Now, one week later, I feel highly self-conscious both about this decision, and about the sentence that precedes this one. If I read that sentence on someone’s blog, I’d think to myself, “Bollocks. The first thing you actually took over was a roll of toilet paper. Or if you did bring over the electric kettle and disco ball, it can only have been in anticipation of writing a charming vignette for your blog and you thought those two objects would make an especially whimsical pairing, you sad, precious fuck!”
So, allow me to correct myself. I did take the electric kettle and the disco ball, but the elder was with me, and he brought the toilet paper.
I stand by my choices. The ability to make hot drinks fast is important and so is beauty. When I grabbed the disco ball, which happened to be on the kitchen counter because some of its mirrors had fallen off and He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved had been re-gluing them on, it was because a photo had popped into my mind that I’d seen online ages ago, a photo of someone’s apartment with a disco ball on the floor in a corner, which caught the sunlight and reflected it in gorgeous swirls of sparkling diamonds onto the apartment’s walls.
To my surprise, He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved didn’t care in the least if I took the kettle. “I never use it,” he explained. And then, when we were at Ikea, he even bought one of those stovetop kettles to replace it.
Your lack of due respect for the electric kettle is just one of the many reasons why I will never understand you, America.
II: Storm, Mirror, Lamp
I’ve been thinking a lot about these lines from the Conclusion to Book 1 of David Hume’s A Treatise of Human Nature recently: “I … fancy myself some strange uncouth monster, who not being able to mingle and unite in society, has been expelled all human commerce, and left utterly abandoned and disconsolate … Every one keeps at a distance, and dreads that storm, which beats upon me from every side.”
I’ve always found the Conclusion to Book 1 deeply compelling. But I’ve never felt such a strong sense of identification with the sentiments expressed in these lines. At the same time, the very fact that I feel that sense of identification only increases my own exasperation with myself. For if Hume himself indulges an absurdly grandiose persecution-fantasy in claiming that he has been “expelled all human commerce,” what audacity is it to see myself as the subject of this narrative?
I am a wife who has left her husband, and I feel shamed. Not ashamed, you understand, but shamed in the sense of disgraced. Indeed, perhaps that absence of ashamedness is precisely why I need to be shamed; is that not the purpose of shaming; to shame the shameless?
People seem wary around me. They keep their distance. Maybe they worry that it’s contagious, and maybe they’re right. Many people are angry with me. And I understand. What I’ve done is deeply selfish. I decided that I was unhappy and lonely enough to justify sacrificing the happiness and stability of three other people’s lives. I feel like a sociopath. And what is it all for? Have I made myself happy by leaving? No. Because now I still feel lonely and I also feel racked with guilt.
The more I try to justify my actions, the more the words ring hollow. Why are you the one moving out, people ask? Well, I’m the one who behaved badly, I’ll say. And I’m the one who doesn’t want to be married any more. Also, the children are closer to their father, I’ll explain, so it seems easier on them if I am the one to leave. See? I continue to rationalize my behavior, always anticipating and deflecting the merest hint of an implication that what I’ve done might be grossly self-centered.
And so I’m now stuck in a vicious cycle. The sadder I feel the more disgust I feel at my own self-absorption, and the more self-disgust I feel the sadder I feel.
Also, M.H. Abrams just died. And I didn’t even realize that he was still alive. If I had I would have written to him. And now it’s too late.
III: Paper, Pebble, Jewel
Last night He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved and I watched half of the first episode of the new season of Orphan Black. There was a scene where Siobhan comes back to her empty house and then she gets severely beaten up by one of the Castor clones who was hiding in the kitchen.
After that, I was too scared to go back to my apartment and so I slept on the sofa at the old house. I didn’t sleep all that well, but I felt safe.
This morning, the walk to preschool turned into a treasure hunt. First the younger spotted a folded piece of paper on the grass of someone’s front yard.
“Oh! Look! A note!” she exclaimed with excitement. Together we unfolded the piece of lined, yellow note paper. It had two words written on it:
Oh, my own little Catherine Morland! Unlike Catherine, however, the younger wasn’t in the least crestfallen to discover the most prosaic of lists; instead she cackled gleefully to herself:
“The person who wrote it is going to forget to buy the chicken stock because I have the list!”
A little further down the street she exclaimed again, “a jewel!” It was a blue plastic jewel, one of those ones with the silver backing that you buy for craft projects. The younger was ecstatic. “I have a note and a jewel.”
If you are thinking that it could not possibly get any better, then you are entirely mistaken.
Just before we turned the corner onto California Avenue, I heard a gasp. “Mama! Look at this stone! Can I have it, Mama? Please???”
A stone probably sounds like the least exciting of the three treasures, but it was actually the best. I’m looking at it now because, of course, the younger insisted I take her treasures home with me, to which I objected (“don’t you want to show them to your teachers? I know they want to see them! Let’s put them in your cubby!”) before, finally, grudgingly conceding.
It’s a smooth, flat, dark grey pebble, the kind of pleasingly heavy stone that would be a perfect paper weight. And here’s where this trio of objects seem to belong together in some strange animistic way. Remember how in Winnie the Pooh when it’s Eeyore’s birthday and Pooh wants to give him a pot of honey, but then Pooh eats the honey; and Piglet wants to give Eeyore a balloon, but then Piglet bursts the balloon, so then Pooh and Piglet just sheepishly present Eeyore with the empty jar and the little piece of burst-balloon rag, and it turns out to be perfect because Eeyore gets such pleasure from putting the balloon rag in and out of the empty jar?
Well, it’s kind of like that with these three things. It’s the sort of stone that would be a perfect paperweight … and, fancy that! Here’s a piece of paper that it could be used to weight! And this jewel …. its translucent pale blue prettiness only really becomes visible against a dark, matt ground … like that provided by this flat grey pebble!
The jewel belongs on top of the pebble, which belongs on top of the paper.
Why am I wasting my time and yours with jewels and pebbles and paper? I really couldn’t say. It’s not that I have nothing else to do. I have yet more clothes and papers, and endless piles of crap still to move to the new flat. I have to put together a bunk bed. I have to figure out what’s wrong with my new fridge. I have to call a man about a sofa. I have to write a letter of recommendation and submit it tomorrow. I have to write a talk to give next week. I should weigh in over here because some very thoughtful people have taken the time to read and respond to what I wrote, and I’m both moved and provoked by their comments and want to write back fully, as they deserve.
But still, my mind wants to linger on the paper, pebble, jewel some more. It is soothing to contemplate this small collection. Is it the chicken stock? The idea of soup? Is it the familiarity of the yellow lined paper, the pleasing roundness of the pebble? The thought of my daughter’s delight in the “jewel” or just the simple pleasure of its shiny angled surface against the soft dark grey? Or maybe it’s that they, these three things, make no demands.  They are already in order.
 Or maybe my perception of the objects’ self-sufficiency is merely evidence that I am viewing them with what Abrams calls the ideology of “art as such,” that is, the idea that art objects are to be contemplated disinterestedly, for their own sake, as self-sufficient totalities. See M. H. Abrams “From Addison to Kant: Modern Aesthetics and the Exemplary Art.” From Doing Things with Texts: Essays in Criticism and Critical Theory. Ed. Fisher, Michael. New York: W. W. Norton, 1989. 159–87. I taught this essay on Tuesday.