A place for . . . everything?
Our lives are based on filing, do you know that? Consider what comes into your life via the mailbox. Unless you throw it all out, or burn it up in the wood stove, it has to go somewhere. If you drop interesting and vital pieces of paper down upon the nearest table, pretending you will sort it out later, you will probably find, as I did for years, that the pile grows and grows and grows. Periodically, as the mound becomes a small mountain, you wonder what's on the bottom.
Curiosity got the better of me one day some time ago, and I decided to spend the morning righteously sorting out the hump on the table. It actually took more than the morning because, for each piece, I had to consider where to file it, and make a file if one didn't exist. You know, "A place for everything, and everything in its place."
Actually, there's something intimidating about that saying. It's as if you were obligated to provide a room for everyone who came to your door. All sorts of odd people would end up in the attic because you had no immediate use for them.
Getting back to that mound on the table, I finally decided where each newspaper clipping, each reminder to subscribe, each receipt from the stores, each factually interesting magazine and newspaper article, ought to be filed. And at last I had my reward. On the very bottom I found a book I'd missed for months. It was one hihgly acclaimed by the critics, that I'd ordered and never had time to open, called How to Organize Your Life.m I decided to put it in the upstairs studio, on the right had lower shelf, where you can read it if you like.
Filing is an emotional experience with me mainly because I got a bad start in life --my business life. The first job I had after graduation from a splendid college where they taught us aesthetics, linguistics, musicology and Greek sports (but not filing) was with a famous Broadway set designer who was also a producer and a very impatient man. I was combination play-reader (which was fun) and secretary (which was not). My stenography was part Pitman and part scribble, and my filing was chaos. The latter was somewhat my boss's fault. He would go through his voluminous mail each morning and hand miscellaneous pictorial pieces over to me saying grandly, "File this." That was a good way of getting his desk cleared, but when someone hands you a mass of unlabeled pictures and says "File this," what do you do? The picture that I took to be a mountain view was filed under M. How was I to know my employer considered it a South American scene to be filed under S? After a few weeks of organizing his files, he found I was indispensable. He couldn't find anything without me. The trouble was, sometimes I couldn't find it, either.
When he asked, in his basso profundo, "Where, Miss Dueland, did you happen to file that picture of Pablo Picasso painting in the fields?" I drew a blank and asked him to describe the picture further. He would tower his six feet four inches over my desk, tap his big feet, and close his eyes (either to recall the scene or pray for guidance), and say, "Picasso was in a green field with a fence and a horse behind the fence." Of course then I knew it was the picture I'd filed under H for horse.
We lasted almost a year, he and I, and we parted friends. I know, because that Christmas he sent me a crate of grapefruit from Florida. (Should I have filed it under G or F?) But that first experience left me with a shaky feeling. Maybe all artists are like that. Some of us try to conform to what the orderly outside world expects of us, and others just go their own way.
The mound on my table was nothing compared with the one I found on an island off the coast of Maine. A friend had introduced me to a famous marine artist, named Bill, who at the time was living in glorious isolation on the farthest tip of the island, getting his paintings ready for a prestigious oneman show. My friend asked him sweetly why he hadn't answered her letter from the previous fall (it was then spring), and he went over to his kitchen table where a bright tablecloth covered a mound about two feet high. He lifted the cloth, and we saw piles of unopened letters.
"Sorry," he said, "I guess you're in there. I was too busy painting."
By way of apology he had us for lunch and made delicious strawberry pancakes. But he could find only two forks and ended using his fingers on the nice juicy pancakes. When we got to the mainland we mailed him a dozen forks. A grand artist shouldn't have to remember to file folks under F.
I am now in the process of turning my entire house into a filing system. There are file folders tucked inside bureau drawers in almost every room.And on the grand piano is a beautiful accordion file decorated with Chinese pictures I bought at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. In that I've filed correspondence from my writing and art students, which makes it a particularly beloved file because as a compartment grows it shows how the student is growing.
There's another accordion file, not nearly so beautiful, that sits on the marble table in my kitchen. This contains publishing correspondence, and one of my cats is particularly fond of sleeping on it, which accounts for the dent in the middle. I noticed only the other day that her fluffy black tail was tucked into one of the labeled compartments and, out of whimsy, I lifted it to see which letter of the alphabet she'd filed her tail under. By golly, it was T.That cat has potential.
She gave me an important clue as to what I could do with something that had been irking me for a long time. I have a valuable antique hobbyhorse that's been sitting in the barn minus its tail. A kind friend, hearing about this, had cut off a big bunch of tail hairs from one of her prize ponies and wrapped it in tissue paper for me. It's a rather bulky package, and on the outside it says "Joy's tail." I didn't know what drawer to file it in, because the tail didn't seem to fit any proper category, and I might lose it forever if it were misfiled. (Of course I could have gone up to the barn and glued it onto the hobbyhorse, but I'm not really sure how to do it and an antique can be spoiled by such vandalism.)
The cat has solved the problem. With real relief I put that package in the accordion file under T and the cat's tail has company. If you wonder why a tail belongs in a publishing folder, ask yourself if this ta le has been published.