New Bookshelves

My cramped apartment mandates a Spartan decorating style, with which my simple tastes have easily jived. The one challenge since I moved in was what to do with all the books. For years they lived on teetering bookshelves which one by one were removed from the apartment as shelves sagged or fell off and joints hinged at angles that were not right. Books migrated under the bed, out in the hall, in unused drawers – anywhere that I could fit them. I bought one new shelf for music, and kept one old shelf by the bed.

My brother helped me put that shelf together in the middle of the big room I had all to myself during my volunteer year in New Bedford (I would later find out that enormous bedroom had once been the upstairs unit’s living room when our house was a two-family). It was cheap and flimsy when I bought it, and even my dear brother’s best efforts could only make it last for so long. Like most things in my life, I stretched it way beyond it’s life-expectancy, and every morning I opened my eyes to see a wobbly, dusty bookshelf topped with a row of language books on top of which my alarm clock (more than a decade old, natch) was uneasily perched.

Last summer I took a course in arts and worship that was not at all what I expected, which aggravated me at the time (and, to be honest, still aggravates me a bit). It was a lot more talking-at-collages and a lot less liturgical-theology than I hoped, but in the course of all the quiet time it offered us I gave a lot of thought to hospitality, particularly the hospitality I offer myself. I love beauty but surround myself with unbeautiful things. I try to be a person of good quality, but I content myself with an atmosphere of poor quality. My bookshelves sag and I leave them be.

I wrote many reflections on that over the summer, some of which are too personal to share [Sidebar: Yes, there are things I consider too personal to share, despite my aggressive oversharing.] One I found today offered this: To what am I being invited? To simplify and beautify. I deserve beautiful things in my life. I deserve cleanliness, neatness and health. What holds me back here? Am I too lazy to care for myself even though I find energy for a million other things? Is it that self-care doesn’t build me up in peoples’ eyes the way accomplishment of other kind does?

And today I wonder too – when I have been acclaimed or praised, when I have accomplished what I set out to do, does coming home to an ugly bookshelf satisfy the corner of my heart that knows that the praise is bullshit? When people tell me that I’m good or smart or beautiful or kind or talented, and I don’t believe them, does an ugly apartment give solace to the part of me that feels like a fraud? At least here, where I’m alone, I get what I truly deserve.

Two days ago I remembered the promise of hospitality I made to myself over the summer and replaced the stupid bookshelf. Now I just have to do something about those ugly walls.

The new shelves

DISCLAIMER: This was written under the influence of a Tori Amos CD
 

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4 Responses to New Bookshelves

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