Friday, December 13, 2013

Clearing The Decks

Whipple house photo courtesy Flickr

The phrase is familiar; the details not so much. The in-house archaeologist, who knows his way around a life support system or twelve, developed an appetite for salty terminology while reading Patrick O’Brian’s Aubrey-Maturin novels about the British navy during the Napoleonic era.

On a wooden ship of war, the upper tier or tiers of lower decks served as dormitories where sailors kept their sea bags and hammocks. When battle loomed, all personal and mess gear and the odd piece of furniture were removed and stowed in lockers to allow maximum freedom of movement and action for the gun crews. After a battle, the area was set up for surgery and as a hospital. Presumably, all involved were grateful still to be breathing.

Arranging living quarters to facilitate clearing the decks is the foundation of efficient housekeeping. Christmas is a good time to test one’s management skills, as is a birthday sleep-over for kids. The ever-present personal computer side bag is a civilian high-tech variant of a sea bag. A bedroom can retain the spare elegance of eighteenth-century Massachusetts, especially if a separate dressing area is defined. 

Over the last year, I’ve been tweaking my interior to see if the “absolute, simple elegance” that a friend observed on a visit to a new interior of high privilege will be relevant to daily life as I wish to live it. A recent slack week allowed me time to finish countless small tasks that I’d set out against the odd moment free for side work. All counters were clear, and there was nothing on the floors except working furniture feet.

A death in the family generated frequent, unplanned social demands, and I discovered that there is no price on preparedness. I’m my own servant, and the pre-emptive maintenance of the previous weeks carried me and the extended family over some rocky hours. Jobs’ instructor in the art and history of the book used to remind his classes of the importance of margins to the legibility of a page. Margins constitute half of the area of a classic sheet. Besides isolating the text from the chaos of surrounding visuals, they guarantee its future by establishing a generous sacrificial boundary area for wear and tear.

The maintenance boundaries I had inadvertently banked allowed me the peace of mind to concentrate on the family’s rites of passage and contribute my best to the occasion rather than the desperately scattered energies of the usual harried timetable.


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