One thing lead to another, and the next thing I knew I was saying, "No, come for the weekend. You must! And bring Dr. Pat with you!"
Stacey was delighted; she's a diligent and devoted blogger, as well as an extremely chic person, and we're going to do a shopping piece together for Quintessence about our lovely Tiverton Four Corners area--to coincide with an article I've written for the August issue of Travel and Leisure about Coastal Rhode Island. I can't wait to show Stacey all my favorite places: Nankeen and Amy's weaving studio and Nancy's Cottage and Tiffany Peay. (And I promise to cross post.) But now it's turned into a party. Dr. Pat Allen delivered all Stacey's children, so they've been friends quite a while.
Readers of Slow Love might recognize Dr. Pat. I dedicated the book to her, and to my agent, Binky Urban. Both of them changed my life--both saved my life, each in her own way. I never had a big sister, but I've adopted them as big sisters, along with a select few other important women.
"But you hate houseguests!" said Abby (another sister). "You hate to cook!"
Well, no, actually, I love houseguests. I love fussing around people. I don't even mind cooking. My initial instinct is to invite people over. But as usual Abby's got her finger on something deeper. My second thought is to panic.
I mean, Stacey writes about "living well with style." She has Very High Standards. And I used to edit a magazine all about same. And Pat runs a blog called Women's Voices for Change, and seriously, I could use some changes. Oh dear. I began making lists. Haircut. Diet. Clean closets. I decided to replant the garden, which really was looking shabby. I thought I should reupholster the sofas, so someone came to take measurements. Not that the sofas will get done in time. It was just a small demonstration of the level of my panic.
I tackled the garden, and it is a mark of how far gone I am that I began to weed tiny threads of bittersweet and grass from between paving stones. As I weeded, I thought bitterly about how no one ever knows how much weeding you've done, unless you say things, grandly sweeping your arm across the garden, like: You should have seen what a wreck this place was three days ago. Of course one doesn't say such things, it is not comme il faut, it reflects poorly on you (because it was your wreck three days ago) and anyway, gardening is meant to look effortless. In this way, gardening is rather like editing. What's usually most important is what you take away, and one cannot show off the absence of things. Writers, though, often behave pas comme il faut, complaining to their friends that they should have read their article before the editors got their hands on it and took away the good bits. Editors do not remove the good bits, I can assure you, having just gone through this recently with a review for the Excellent Alida at the New York Times Book Review. "Don't you think one reference to Pooh will do?" I whined, secretly. I liked that little smackeral of honey. But she was right.
I did stop to admire the view, and sweep off the patio, and I remembered how one lawn mower years ago stopped his machine and said, "You always have pairs of chairs everywhere, but there's only you." And I told him the chairs were just waiting. And thought his concern, or confusion, was sweet. Anyway, he wasn't entirely right. Just because one isn't married doesn't mean one is always alone. Ahem. As I swept, I noticed the way a spider had knitted two chairs together. So much social networking goes on in nature, the original twitter kingdom. And that made me think happily about how, if I had never started this blog, I would have never known about The Spider Book, which is not called The Spider Book but Spider Silk: Evolution and 400 Million Years of Spinning, Waiting, Snagging and Mating. It has given me new appreciation (not love, not even like, but admiration) for the little creatures. The big ones not so much. But congratulations to authors Leslie Brunetta and Catherine Craig. Leslie reports that they've recently been honored with three exciting awards, including being longlisted for the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books. Evidently they like science and spiders more in Britain than they do here. Brava, ladies.
Anyway, after pruning a few trees, and weeding bitterly, sweat pouring down and soaking my clothes, I decided to transplant a few things, and that necessitated a few runs to Peckham's to fill holes, where Rick was somewhat surprised to see me three times in the same day. But I stopped to admire someone's very groovy restored old Citroen 2cv (I think). I've noticed it around town, but there it was, parked, so I could really eyeball it. I am secretly a car nut.
In general I made myself crazy. And that was before I cleaned up inside. Again, one cannot display the absence of things, such as spider webs and dustballs. Thankfully. I managed to get done all the things I love to do for houseguests--I laid out light cotton bathrobes (no one ever travels with one), scented candles, picked books off my shelves that each person might enjoy (Eudora Welty's letters for Pat, Horst's photographs of interiors for Stacey) and floated some daylilies in bowls. These are touches that others have taught me in welcoming me into their lives, and I thought about those visits as I prepared for my guests, my mind drifting back onto islands in Maine and modernist villas in New Orleans.
Dr Pat once put me on a very strict diet (which I most assuredly needed). But now, when I think of her, I think of that diet. It seared itself into my consciousness.
The contents of my refrigerator were not looking too Pat-friendly. There were a few bran muffins (replete with chocolate chips and raisins and all sorts of good things) left behind by my sons, who couldn't fit more into their suitcases. The best way to hide those, I figured, was to eat them, so I did.
I found my shopping list, in the refrigerator, mysteriously, written when my panic was full blown.
It was enormously helpful. It said: Buy food. Chicken. Lobster. Veg. Fruit.
Then there was the pint of Ben and Jerry's ice cream. For a fleeting moment, I considered hiding it under the lid of the turkey stock my sister had given me. But that's only because my sister used to hide her shopping from her ex-Awful Angry Husband by switching her new dresses into dry cleaning bags to sneak them out of the car and into her closet. Even though she was the one with a job.
I decided not to hide the ice cream under the Turkey Stock. I decided not to eat it either.
I decided instead to examine why on earth I get into such a panic about houseguests? Pat and Stacey will have a marvelous time, and so will I. I can't wait to see them. But what is that voice, booming now, inside my head telling me that I will never measure up, that nothing I do is good enough, that no one will like me, and that everyone will have a miserable time!? SHUT UP!
And it did! It shut right up. So I went out to admire how pretty blue and red look together in the garden, the spiderwort having bloomed at the same time as the monarda. For a tiny second, I chastised myself for planting such tall things (well, they were little at first) right in front of my bench, but then...Shut Up! It worked again, and instead, I thought how lovely it will be to see the weekend through a haze of red and blue. If I ever have a moment to actually sit in the garden.
P.S. You may wonder what possesses a person in a panic to sit down and write? It made me feel much better to figure it all out.
P.P.S. Everything is done. I've even had time for a watercress and mayo sandwich. And my house is entirely clean--all at the same time--for the first time in months. I mean, my house is always clean, just not all at the same time. I'll do a room, get bored, move on. This is quite lovely. I'm going to walk up the lane and come back in so I can be surprised.