Thursday, 21 June 2007

Cherished Neurosis

In my kitchen there is a shelf; on this shelf there is a large array of mugs. There's bird, Russian and green cone to name but three. There is also my mug . The one I drink my tea from every morning. Somehow morning tea doesn't taste the same from another. It's not the most attractive mug in the collection but it says A Room of One's Own and Virginia Woolf on it. It is purple, not my favourite colour but my husband bought it for me specially.

On Monday morning, my visiting mother-in-law used my mug for her tea so when I got up I had to wash it before using it for mine. As I was drinking a thought began to grow in my mind 'how ridiculous of me, why couldn't I just use one of the others?' I looked at it; it is just a cheap, mass produced mug. Hardly anything to become attached to. It's not made of the finest porcelain; it doesn't feel just so in the hand; it isn't the one thing I managed to rescue from the embers of a happier past. It's just one of many ordinary bits of kitchen tat in my possession. So, if it is not the mug's physical (or sentimental) properties it must be something else. I must have invested it with a specialness it doesn't, in reality, posses. The only thing that comes readily to mind is the link with Virginia Woolf, the idea of a room of one's own.

Every morning I make myself the tea and sit down at my desk in my study to drink it and check my emails and blog. There I sit, smoking and drinking and checking in my own room. A room I snaffled from the rest of the family -it used to be a beautiful but under-used dining room – when I started my degree. I have filled this room with books and papers, several chairs, an old leather couch, a desk and computer. It now tells the story of me as a hard working student and writer. It is my dream room. A room of my own. And this story is reinforced every morning by the mug. By the ghost of another writer in another era who actually succeeded at her craft. Her narrative feeds mine.

In short it seems I see myself as a Virginia Woolf mug sort of person rather than, say, a Russian mug sort. But, for cocoa I always use bird. As ever even the most, apparently, simple things reveal complexity when one looks under the surface. I don't know why I find one mug suitable for tea and the other perfect for cocoa. But I know changes must be made; one of the things I want to be more than anything else is flexible so that I can take life in my stride and respond to every event positively.

I really don't want to be a neurotic mug fascist who can't function properly when forced to use a different one. It doesn't seem far from being unable to step on pavement cracks. So on Tuesday morning I took my tea in Civilisation by Clive Bell: never heard of him but what do you know? My tea tasted just as good. I used that mug again yesterday too and today I am drinking from Russian which looks much more attractive on my green painted desk.

This is all about me regaining control of my life. For too long I've allowed habits, neuroses and other people's rules to lead the way. And recently I've been finding myself slipping deeper and deeper into apathy. Hopefully by changing the little things the biggies will follow suit.

I've still been using bird for cocoa it's the perfect size, so maybe I can allow myself that. But I think tonight I will eat my supper from a different plate.

How about you, any odd habits you feel a need to shake? A problem shared is a problem halved as my mother used to say before laughing scornfully at the prospect of having anyone to share it with. But here there is always someone to share, to understand and, sometimes, to mock. And I often find being mocked helps a great deal.

So lets have your stories.


Carole said...

I love the whole concept of a room of my own and a special cup. I got excited just thinking that perhaps if I had a special place, a special cup, I might be more productive. I think my problem could be close to the opposite of yours. I can't seem to form habits. My life is in constant motion, changing in seconds, and always has been as long as I remember. I don't attach to anything, because it could be gone in seconds. Examples? I don't always remember to brush my teeth. I have to use little reminders to make sure I do things, that most people would naturally form into a habit. I never put dishes away in the same cupboard...well sometimes I do but not always. Depends on if I am in a hurry. Sometimes I clean the house well for weeks at a time, other times, I step over knee deep laundry. I love walking in the park and have stretches where it happens frequently, but it has been at least two weeks since I've been on the trail. Maybe I have a habit of not making habits.

Dr Maroon said...

Golf and rat strangling, two habits I can't drop. Problem is, golf's not too popular round here.
On a more serious note, I don't want to be a mug facist or take sides with your mother-in-law (who is probably alright) but your mug shelf is a ****ing disgrace. What, philosophers don't recognise the existance of mug trees?

Eryl Shields said...

Ooh, interesting: I hadn't considered the possibility of an opposite problem to this particular one. But thinking of Aristotle's virtue theory might provide an answer. This says that each virtue is flanked by two vices. So, for example 'brave' sits between 'cowardly' and 'foolhardy'. In our case I think the virtue is something like reliable or organised, something to do with being able to form and work to a routine. My vice is that my routine has become an inflexible and potentially debilitating habit. Yours could be that you are so flexible that you can't rely on yourself to stick to a routine that would enable you to be more productive. Perhaps it's just a case of imagining yourself with an enabling routine until you can form one and stick to it as second nature.

Eryl Shields said...

Dr M ~ Missed you there. Don't try and force your dogmatic mug-treeism on me. Chipped rims don't suit my style.

Kim Ayres said...

Woohoo! You broke free of the purple mug! Your dominant narrative is being rewritten :)

I fear for my writing room. It's not much larger than a single bed, but Rogan's at a point where he really needs his own space, so Maggie and I are trying to figure out how we can juggle the space in the house to fit us all. I'm pushing for Maggie to have a shed in the garden to use as her studio and I'll take over her room...

Mary Witzl said...

Your description of yourself as a 'mug fascist' amused me greatly, Eryl.

A friend of mine had a fiance who was a professor at an Ivy League college. According to her, he had a stuffed panda with movable ears that he had to manoeuvre into a certain position every night. Once I heard that story, all of my considerable idiosyncrasies paled to nothing.

I have a mug that has a picture of a woman wearing an apron on it and the notation "Mums: like dads only smarter." This gets used by everyone in the house, despite the fact that the kids both have their own mugs and raise hell when someone else forgets and uses them.

Eryl Shields said...

Kim ~ Why don't you take the shed? You could line it with books and get a woodburning stove and an old couch. It could be fantastic. I've almost talked myself into doing the same.

Mary ~ Sounds like your family will stop you from becoming too precious about mere mugs. Mine, however, after reading this post told me that my odd habits are what make me so endearing.

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

When I'm tired or under a lot of stress I rub my nose on the wee hairs on my arm. I wish I didn't do that. It's very soothing though, maybe like the thumb-sucking of my daughter - like her, oftentimes it's automatic.

My twin girls were born 10 weeks premature and the hospital was 35 miles away. I was pumping milk for them every 3 hours round the clock in a bid to give them the immunity they were missing from their 3rd trimester's gestation. I spent all day up at the hospital in Santa Barbara and then drove home about 8 or 9. It's a twisty road over a hill and one night, I went off the road. I had been steering with one arm, doing my nosy-arm thing, and fallen asleep.

The same flippin' night I was sitting on the edge of the bath pumping milk for the freezer. I drew my knees up, did my nosey-arm thing and fell asleep again. This time I fell on the tile floor and bashed my cheekbone. This woke me up. My cheekbone was a beautiful black all under my eye in the morning.

My husband banned me from doing nosey-arm and I promised I wouldn't. It was a habit I'd really wanted to give up. It was childish, weird but not in a cool way and now, it seemed, dangerous too.

But them's were tough times and I couldn't do it. Nosey-arm was also my friend, see. It somehow soothed the need to gnaw off my own arm with worry about the girls. I didn't need to pace the ward or run up and down the stairs at home so much if I had nosey-arm, and this saved my energy for making milk. Happy cows make better milk is what they say and I was almost maniacally focussed on giving the girls breast milk to try and compensate a little for not being able to cook them any longer.

I just quit while driving.

Kanani said...

I understand the mug preference.
Last year I was invited to a big legal mucky muck fundraiser as a guest. Ed Asner was the emcee and he was three sheets to the wind and had a rip roaring time. I found him charming, the people (lawyers) he was needling tried their best to chuckle.

Starbucks donated mugs and coffee gift cards. A lot of the seats went unfilled, and many of the people didn't want the "swag," So they left the bags.

Me... being me... loves free things, even at times to the point of tackiness at a $300/ head banquet. I went around and collected about ten of them, carrying out the clanking lot to the valet. Excuse me, please, would you be so kind to get the dirty car so I can put my free mugs and flower centerpiece in the back seat?

Now I have a whole bunch of mugs that have the organization's name on them.

I love these mugs. I don't know why. But I always reach for one in the morning.

Mary Witzl said...

Kanani, I would have competed with you for those mugs!

Eryl Shields said...

Sam ~ Aww! (I've probably had too much wine but) Nosey-arm probably saved your girl's lives. I rub my top lip in times of stress but just with my fingers. And if it's really bad I chain smoke which would probalbly compromise the integrity of beast milk.

Kanani ~ Freebies yipee! Great story.

Mary ~ You and me both.