Saturday, August 17, 2013


“I consider that a man's brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle, A Study in Scarlet

As a teenager, I was always rearranging my bedroom furniture. I would wake up one morning and decide I was tired of everything in my entire life and needed a change in a big way. Other teens went in for black lipstick or spiked haircuts; I moved furniture.

Most of my furniture was shelves, where my books and strange collections were constantly on display. I hadn’t discovered decorative storage boxes yet at that age: everything I owned was out and visible at all times. I didn’t even have doors on my closet.

Every time I moved the furniture, the shelves too were rearranged. The Lord of the Rings trilogy could go with my grandmother’s music box, while my childhood teddy bear could sit with my writing books. I might keep a pokéball with my video games, a pinwheel in the cup with my pens, and a small porcelain panda with my Japanese dictionaries, or maybe the panda would stand by my incense burner or in the pokéball or next to the small painted pumpkin. Whole evenings and weekends were spent placing things and stepping back to consider the placement of those things.

“Maybe someday I’ll find ‘the right way’ to arrange everything and then I’ll stop,” I told my family. “But I doubt it.”

My grandma, whose opinion I respect, said, “I like your room.”

“You do?” I asked. “Like, right now? Or the way it was before?”

“All the time,” she said, running her hands over a fossil from my rock collection. “I imagine it’s what the inside of your head looks like.”


 “What are you writing?” my husband asked before sunrise one morning as he drove the two of us to the gym.

Frantically scribbling in a notebook, illuminated by the meager dome light of the car and the occasional streetlamp, I said, “I had a thought, and I thought it might be a blog post, but it was just a thought, so I almost didn’t write it down, but then I thought that thought went with some other thoughts I had last week that went with some thoughts I had over Christmas and I had to write it down so I can put them all together later.”

“That’s a lot of thoughts,” he said

I nodded. “Sometimes the thoughts are organized and they fall out of my head as fully formed essays, but other times they’re in pieces like Lego bricks and I have to put them together. Other thoughts are nice, but they’re too small to go in a blog post by themselves. I have to wait until I have a collection. In the meantime, they just get stored in my brain while I wait for more to turn up.”

“I’m sort of sorry I asked.”

After more scribbling, I said, “Sometimes, I go digging through my head and I find these old boxes of thoughts that I haven’t looked at in forever and I’ll say, ‘Hang on! This thought matches the one in that jar, and they both go well with the one on that shelf in the corner!’ and I polish them up and hang them on the blog.”

“Let me just see if I’ve got this,” said Matt. “Your brain is full of shelves and boxes and weird jars in dusty corners and sometimes there are Legos?”

Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying.


Rumer Godden said “Everyone is a house with four rooms: a physical, a mental, an emotional, and a spiritual.” BBC’s Sherlock talks about his “mind palace.” I have an attic crowded with shelves. It doesn’t seem so far fetched.

Some mornings I wake up and decide I’m tired of everything in my life and I need a change in a big way. Other people turn to drink or drugs or buying things they can’t afford; I move the furniture.

On shelves made of opinions and experiences, every thought I’ve ever had is a colored glass bottle, freaky specimen jar, fossil, sock monkey, rubber duck, or small porcelain panda. Every memory is a souvenir snow globe or postcard. I display them next to The Lord of the Rings and the other books I keep with me always, while my religion and my upbringing sit in pieces on the work bench, the better to fiddle with the cogs and gears.

Maybe someday I’ll find “the right way” to arrange everything. But I doubt it.

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