Thursday, July 28, 2005

An Uncushioned Life

i have a lot of things. If anyone asked me, i would say i am not a particularly "material" person; but the fact remains, things abound. It was in the midst of a recent decluttering effort that i came across a little gem of a book which i'd read a few years ago - The Clothes They Stood Up In, by Alan Bennett. i can't remember how i came by it; i only know it's been lurking in the terrifyingly tippy tower of books beside my bed. Not much bigger than my palm, it tends to unbalance the stack. i sat on the floor and opened it about in the middle and began to read, to remind myself what i had liked about this book that made me keep it. Here's what i read:

[First, a synopsis - Mr. & Mrs. Ransome are a middle-class couple who return to their home from the opera one evening, to find they have been robbed of every possession - everything but the clothes they stood up in. Over the next few days, they each come to terms with this event in different ways. ]

"Mrs. Ransome, too, could see the cheerful side of things, but then she always did. When they had got married they had kitted themselves out with all the necessities of a well-run household; they had a dinner service, a tea service plus table linen to match; they had dessert dishes and trifle glasses and cake stands galore. There were mats for the dressing table, coasters for the coffee table, runners for the dining table; guest towels with matching flannels for the basin, lavatory mats with matching ones for the bath. They had cake slices and fish slices and other slices besides, delicate trowels in silver and bone the precise function of which Mrs. Ransome had never been able to fathom. Above all there was a massive many-tiered canteen of cutlery, stocked with sufficient knives, forks and spoons for a dinner party of twelve. Mr. and Mrs. Ransome did not have dinner parties. They seldom used the guest towels because they never had guests. They had transported this paraphernalia with them across thirty-two years of marriage to no purpose at all that Mrs. Ransome could see, and now at a stroke they were rid of the lot. Without quite knowing why, and while she was washing up their two cups in the sink, Mrs. Ransome suddenly burst out singing.

...Mrs. Ransome had begun to see that to be so abruptly parted from all her worldly goods might bring with it benefits she would have hesitated to call spiritual but which might, more briskly, be put under the heading of 'improving the character.' To have the carpet almost literally pulled from under her should, she felt, induce salutary thoughts about the way she had lived her life. War would once have rescued her, of course, some turn of events that gave her no choice, and while what had happened was a catatstrophe on that scale she knew it was up to her to make of it what she could. She would go to museums, she thought, art galleries, learn about the history of London; there were classes in all sorts nowadays -- classes that she could perfectly well have attended before they were deprived of everything they had in the world, except that it was everything they had in the world, she felt, that had been holding her back. Now she could start. So, plumped down on the beanbag on the bare boards of her sometime lounge, Mrs. Ransome found that she was not unhappy, telling herself that this was more real and that (though one needed to be comfortable) an uncushioned life was the way they ought to live."

Hmmm...Mrs. Ransome had it easy, didn't she? The dread of choice was taken from her; she only had to choose how to respond to the loss of her things. How much more difficult to discern, sitting on my bedroom floor among the dustbunnies creeping from under the bed, whether to keep a book like this - so worthy! - or to truly espouse its teaching and get rid of it!


Blogger ParisLondres said...

Great post and it has spurred me (mentally at least) into some serious decluttering - have way too many things and they are taking over my life - books, papers, magazines, clothes, music cds, dvds, make-up, perfumes.
Thanks again!

3:09 AM  
Blogger red-queen said...

i knew you would understand, N :>)
Some are such worthy things, too - but we become slaves to them, almost.

8:28 PM  
Blogger katiedid said...

This is why I love used bookstores like Powell's. I can indulge my urge to get rid of things, by turning some books in for trade. Then I can spin right around and indulge my urge to accumulate by using the trade value to aquire new books, heh.

9:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gosh, don't I know this to be truth. Life is simpler when choices are simpler. If I had but one thing to eat for breakfast, 1 perfume to wear, and wore a uniform to work, I'd actually make it to work on time more often. LOL!

12:06 AM  
Blogger Bela said...

I sometimes look at our lives and think, "From caveman to this? How did we get here?"

I have lots of things too. I do regular culls, but I love my things (most of the time) and I'm very attached to them.

8:33 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home