The class rosters I have not brought up to date. The brochure I have not printed. The bed I have not made. The clothes I have not folded and put away. The cancer memoir I have not begun. The toenails I did not clip. The education I never received and will never receive. The emails I have never read. The copies of The Sun that sit on my bedside table and ask to be read. (I have never read a single one. I read novels instead). The ring on the bathtub, the refrigerator that has not been cleaned in half a year. The office I used to work in, the one behind my house, the beautiful office with the Mexican tile floor and the wood stove for heat, the one with termites and no insulation, a high peaked ceiling and my father’s old bed up above to nap in. The windows all around looking out at a garden Karyn planted for me to enjoy. The desktop computer, fax machine, copier and printer, the two phones, one for home, one for business. The files of ex students, ex clients, aborted projects, books I edited years ago. Now the room is full of boxes and cobwebs, shelves full of the delitrous of selves I have left behind.
I have not used my office since I left in June of 2007 to take Eli to the international origami conference in New York City. We spent four days at the Art Institute, sleeping in a barren dorm room, and walking across the street where hundreds of folders from all over the world sat and made magic with thin squares of folded paper. Lizzy and I wandered the city while Eli folded. Out of all of Manhattan the only thing she found to eat were slices of pizza and a certain kind of very white muffin they sold around the corner at the biggest Whole Foods I’ve ever seen.
Five days later we took the train to New Jersey and grandma’s house. Three days after that I found out I had cancer. I have not worked in my office since. It has become the dumping ground for Lizzy’s blue sewing manniken, her abandoned sewing projects, cartons of unopened books, bags of Karyn’s wool that she has been talking about selling for four years now, piles of papers and unopened mail, dust bunnies and spiderwebs. The room overwhelms me. Somewhere in there are the tax records I need or the short story I am looking for, but just walking in the door of the haven I used to enjoy overwhelms me. I think every week that this will be the week I go in there and start throwing things away. If you leave paperwork unattended long enough, I find that 90% of it has become outdated and can be tossed. But I am leaving my office undone.
I began using a laptop in bed during my horizontal year. And now I have horned in on the kids’ homework desk or a place ont eh couch. With wireless, who needs an office? Any surface will do. So I leave the piles and the boxes and the chaos undone. I embrace the chaos, the mess, the inability to reclaim the private space I once held so dear. I embrace the lists with things that fall off the bottom, forever relegated to third class status—the undone. I embrace a bath and a chapter of a novel rather than the next task on the list.
Last fall, I drove to L.A. to celebrate the wedding of my friends Keith and John. (Keith who I made out with in elementary school.) It was a high class L.A. affair and everyone kept asking me what I do. I never quite knew how to answer the question. Is it okay to just say, “I am learning to relax.” “I am seeing what life feels like without ambition.”
I am exploring my new post-cancer skin. I am taking care of my kids and making dinner. I teach my class and pick up the kids. Nothing sexy. Nothing glamorous. Nothing sensational. I am letting go of doing anything that impresses anyone. I am embracing the undone. The undone are my friends. They are teaching me how to live.