Thursday, August 8, 2013

Taking Up Space

If I had written a "What I've Been Into" post for the month of July it would be about how I've been reorganizing my apartment. My two roommates from last year moved out and three new women are moving in soon. July was my in-between time. I pushed furniture around, cleared out cabinet spaces, scrubbed and vacuumed.  While I occasionally started to get a bit lonely, I enjoyed the month of introverted bliss.

One of the main projects was to make sure that all of the three new ladies would have enough space. Last year it was just two of us for a while, and then when a third person moved in she didn't need much space. So, my things were quite spread out around the apartment. I've been re-organizing and condensing kitchen and bathroom shelves, emptying out what was an extra closet last year so that the fourth person could have it, and trying to maximize the space in my own closet and under my bed. 

I've been working hard to make sure that the space is as equitable as possible, but the bedrooms are different sizes and mine (that I'll share with one other person) is the big one. I realized I was battling some type of guilt over that, despite the fact that I was not the architect. Last year, when we were divvying up kitchen cabinets I took the smallest one, trying to be fair or generous or something, and soon found the tiny sliver of a cabinet unsuitable for my stock of various lentils and beans, vinegars and oils. In reorganizing the kitchen this past month - I arranged some of the dishes into that tiny cabinet, leaving one large cabinet free for each person's food storage. (One is slightly smaller, but I freed up a drawer for whoever gets that cabinet.)

The other night as I agonized over square inches, shelf space, and equitable 
proximity to power outlets,  it hit me, "I'm afraid I'm taking up too much space."


When I buy airline seats I am very methodical. I check the make and model of the plane on seat guru and analyze the inches of width in the seat design of various planes.  I choose my seat near the window, not for the view, but for the ability to lean my body into the unoffended wall and away from the presumed discomfort of my flight neighbor-to-be. On the morning of, I dress nicely to prevent the "lazy slob" description. I arrive early, so that I can board in the correct zone and slide into my seat before my row mates arrive and I have to squish my body through.

A few months ago, I flew stand-by. I jumped from gate to gate waiting on a flight, any flight to get me to my destination. A couple of minutes before takeoff my name got called. I made my way down the aisle of the almost-full plane and glanced at the letters above the seats and realized I had a middle seat. I took a deep breath as I saw my seat - one empty slot between two seats filled by slender men. "Excuse me, that's my seat!" I said with a smile. He got up and let me through. I avoided eye contact for fear of seeing annoyance or even disgust. I buckled my belt (relieved that it fit) and squeezed my arms together, pulling in my wide chest in the process. I made myself as narrow as possible.

Somewhere in the flight I relaxed out of necessity. One can only hold a squeezed-in position for so long. But as I relaxed and realized the world didn't end and my neighbors didn't huff in disgust I mentally relaxed as well. This is my body. It takes up this space. It deserves the space it inhabits. My neighbors' long legs were folded up awkwardly in the space between his seat and the one in front of us. His legs were not wrong, they are not committing some social travesty by needing more room to be comfortable. Neither was my width. Here, the airline had shrunk and crammed: every inch a dollar sign. Money was deemed more important than people. It was a choice I submitted to when I boarded a plane, but their focus on profit did not mean my body was wrong. My fellow passengers had made the same choice - to fly in a coach seat with unknown neighbors. 

Outline is Me. :) 

I'm no psychotherapist - but I'd call the fears of "taking up too much space," whether it's my body on a plane or my life in an apartment, related.  Realizing that connection helped me breath a little easier about the apartment sharing. I'm doing my best to set things up to be equitable. I'm more than open to the input of my future roommates and to share the things I have. The best I can do is be me and thankfully that is all that is required.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Napkins and Beauty

In May of 2009 I sat down to dinner at a large table with about a dozen other people. Women and girls filled the table and greeted me warmly and asked me questions about my life. My presence at that dinner table was part of an interview for me to work and live in the home as a houseparent in a non-profit residential program. 

I loved everything about it. The girls, the home, the town, the job. It was all so me. Well, I guess I should say I loved almost everything. At the dinner table my plate of chicken sat atop a bleach-stained and wrinkled placemat and my silverware lay across a faded floral napkin with frayed edges and a thread bare hole in the middle. 

I'm willing to admit here that I've got aesthetic snobbery issues. I'm willing to admit that despite my love of [almost] everything during that job interview, those napkins bothered me. Why were obviously worn pieces of cloth still being used? These young women deserved the dignity of pretty, or at least neat, napkins! 

Hospitality is in my blood, I toyed with the idea of becoming an interior decorator. I value things being pretty and welcoming and pleasant. While my emphasis on where those things should fall in the scheme of important things has changed over the years, my heart is still firmly rooted in making spaces welcome and hospitable - and in my head that has often meant "nice." While it may sound silly, I was literally kind of sad for the people who lived in that house that their napkins had holes. 

Fast forward a few months and I'm packing up my apartment. Getting rid of most of my belongings, putting things I love into storage, and selecting the bare minimum to move with me 800 miles to my new job as a houseparent. As I sorted through my kitchen I pulled out my napkins, and placed them in the "Take to Chicago" pile with a smile.

Now, my napkins were not fancy. They were simple linen squares in a neutral color. But thy were clean, the color was consistent, the hem was in tact, and there were no holes. I had laundered them carefully during the two years I had used them and folded them as soon as they exited the dryer. They were clean and neat and wrinkle free. I would take them with me and replace those worn and faded things I had seen.

The napkins got put into the linen drawer at my new home and job. I threw out the torn and frayed ones. Over the next three years as countless meals were served at that large dining table they were put into rotation with the other napkins. They got tossed in the laundry hamper after our family dinner each night. Laundered, folded, and put away back in a drawer for the process to repeat the next day.

At the end of the summer of 2012 as I prepared to leave my job as a houseparent and move on to grad school in Philadelphia I was organizing the dining linen cabinet and ran across a couple of those napkins that had I had brought with me years before. 

They were splattered with bleach spots. A couple of thready holes found their way into the fabric and the hems were tattered and frayed. Evidence of hundreds of meals and cycles through the washing machine. Evidence of laughter at dinner and stories of the day. Evidence of tables full of food and a chorus of "pass the .. . " for ten minutes while we all filled our plates. Evidence of chore time and the labor to wash it, fold it, put away, and re use it all over again. 

For the three years I had  lived in that house, I had not had sole control over those napkins. I did not launder them myself, careful of temp and cycle and detergents. I was not there every time they were put away to ensure they were folded and not crammed. The napkins got swept up into the life of a busy house and were part of that community.  With so many people and so much life to be lived, the napkins quickly got pushed off my radar of things about which to be concerned.  While I will argue in favor of caring for our material goods, even meticulous laundering would not have preserved napkins that went through hundreds of washes. They were used as they should be and showed the signs of age. 

With all my "aesthetic snobbery," I wouldn't trade those three years of laughter around the table, dinner clean-up, and loud music during chore time for the prettiest napkins of all. 

That summer as I organized the linen cabinet, I took one of those napkins I brought with me to Chicago that was now faded and torn and placed it in my "take to Philadelphia" pile. It'll never be used as a napkin again I'm sure, but it's there in a memory box so that when I run across it one day in the future I'll remember those family dinners, the way that chore time became a dance party, and that some things are more important that aesthetics.