stacks of coins and ball jars

It’s hard to find original inspiration these days. Within our own little niche we basically (with a few exceptions, of course) read the same books, watch the same things, get our news from the same sources. You know, I’m sure, that old theory that there is no such thing as original thought since we all pull from the same pool. But it seems the pool is deeper and wider and more of us are gathering around the same waterholes.

I’ve blathered on about this in an attempt to excuse myself for not blogging much and not finding much original to blog about. Even more unoriginally I think I’ve discussed this before, and it is one of the things that makes me question my own reason or justification for blogging, at least until I can embark upon my travels to virgin rainforests untouched by man where I learn languages never before heard or eat foods never before photographed or made available via a fruit and veg coop. That will come, someday. In the meantime, here’s a tidbit which, of course, is unoriginal, but perhaps interesting if you haven’t come across it yet in your media travels.

There is a Swiss comedian who has been all over the media lately named Ursus Wehrli. He spoke at a TED conference, he’s been all over the news because he, in a search for a “more rational, more organized, and cleaner” space in both modern art and life, has gone about on his own mission to tidy it up. The results he published in a book (that’s what we do, right, when we do something original?) He takes a bowl of alphabet soup and alphabetizes it. He pulls the needles from a pine branch and lines them up in perfectly neat rows, arranging the twigs by size. He takes a parking lot full of cars and reparks them in neat clusters of color, and does the same with modern art, lining up the squares in a Klee, neatening up the bed in a van Gogh, taking the dots from a Seurat and bagging them like jellybeans. It’s whimsical fun.

But it made me realize that I’m seeing this same desire for order everywhere. Ball jars are hot, oh so hot. Glass jars that my grandmother used are now not only popular but have become rather than a practical solution to a frugal act (canning of seasonal fruits and veggies) a design element and even a luxury item. Do a search on the image website pinterest for organization and you find a veritable orgy of categoric bliss: jars and baskets and dividers and little cups to hold and separate, calendars and shelves and hooks, all numbered and labeled and filled with tender care. It’s no longer the sign of a mental illness but an admirable and desireable, not to mention competitive way of life.

There was a day when I lived in a comfortable den replete with hammock, populated by stacks of magazines and books, baskets which held seemingly incongruous items whose relation was only known to me. I did have a private passion for lists and graphs and records, documenting my phone bills and my secrets in lovely books and quadrille-lined journals, but no one knew of that. When I met my husband and first visited his apartment the alarm bells went off when I saw, atop his television, a perfectly aligned stack of pennies, one of nickels, one of dimes. In the years since I’ve partially, not wholly, embraced this love of neatness, of order. It just seems to make life easier to have things in some sort of order, to control the chaos and not let it become a Godzilla which devours all around it. Here is your food, little beastie, but clean up when you are done.

I wonder though, from whence comes this burning desire to tidy, to neaten, to control this world whose chaos threatens. Is it a white-person thing… an age thing? Perhaps these uncertain times have made this need all the more acute and more widespread. While I do admit to some pleasure in the process of neatening (and admit that I covet a full set of ball jars to put on my shelf and fill with lovely things) I also know that it is a thankless task and a frustrating lesson in futility, for life is not controllable and we should not pretend that it is. It is not tidy or color coded nor can it fit neatly under perfectly aligned tops on perfectly aligned shelves, try as you may.

…I still get a frisson of pleasure when my life has the illusion of order, at least those parts I can control. Maybe I do need those jars…

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12 thoughts on “stacks of coins and ball jars

  1. Hmm…. interesting question. Where DOES that need come from? Because not all humans have it. I have it. I like things neat and tidy. It helps me inner world when my outer world is organized. I feel chaotic inside when there is chaos on the outside. I wonder if we all have this need and it just shows up in different ways? This comedian and his art…that is VERY odd. Ha!

  2. I have a need for order and tidiness. I just don’t understand how people function any other way! So much time can be wasted trying to find things otherwise. Even though I’m home with a disability I still try to have a schedule and ‘eliminate and concentrate’ things on a regular basis. If you don’t it’s too easy to get overwhelmed, and once again, waste that precious commodity – time!!

    1. With three kids I harp a lot on the benefits of being organized, and find it ironic that in this world where there are a million tools to assist in that we are all perhaps less organized than our forefathers… just too much going on and pulled in a million directions at once.

  3. Those are some cool photographs…visually pleasurable in the contrast of what seems chaotic to what seems ordered. It is all about semblance, really, isn’t it? What seems ordered feels ordered and what seems chaotic feels chaotic. We like the “feeling” that comes with our attempts at control. Logically we know it is futile, but the more moments of good feelings we can stack up for ourselves, the better life seems overall. I have had a feeling of freedom as I have relinquished control through my life. I was frantic about tidiness and fearful of chaos, but I am learning to see and appreciate both the rows and the scattered. There is place for both…and your blog proves it! I liked this one! MMF

  4. A good friend once told me that the art of cleaning and organizing is directly linked to the human desire to establish order to mental chaos. Hence, in putting our things in order, we make sense of to whatever confusion is causing us angst. I have to admit that I incur in more housecleaning when I’m stressed. When things are good, I do like a sloth! 🙂

    1. Yes, and your comment just made me recall that “nesting instinct” that seems to overtake most women I know (including me x3) when they are about to give birth. It really happens… an intense need to scrub bathtubs and organize drawers. Needless to say, that intensity rarely returns after the birth, for most anyway. 😉

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