Thursday, May 29, 2014


Spring-cleaning is a word that I've been reflecting on recently. 

The “spring” in spring-cleaning starts out as a reference to the season that follows winter with its fusty enclosedness (at least in these cold latitudes). But of course it also says liveliness, springing-up-ness, movement in general: “a spring in her step”, “he springs up”. Then there’s the cleaning part of spring-cleaning. It comes with the image of clearing and airing out of cupboards and the putting-away of winter clothes and retrieving of warmer-weather garb.

But the most interesting aspect of the word spring-cleaning is the way it is loaded with metaphorical possibilities. That’s where my thoughts have been tending this week. I’ve been strongly reminded that a spring-cleaning of our attitudes or thought-patterns can give new energy and move us out of the sterile winter of old patterns and into new life.

It’s suddenly the end of May and at last, just in the last few days, I feel truly lighter. Superficial reasons include the fact that only this week did the weather in Toronto warm to an intensity that felt like a foretaste of summer, inviting us to wear shorts or light skirts and tank tops, with no protective overlayers. It’s been wonderful to feel the soft air on my skin, and to be able to sit out in the evening lightly dressed. And pedalling past trees loaded with airy fragrant blossoms – lilac, apple, chestnut, and more – is one of the best pleasures of spring, along with the sounds of the birds and the brilliant green of new life in the garden and on the trees.

But the bigger springing forward has come because I’ve now done my taxes: I’ve sorted through last year’s paperwork, assembled, typed in, and added up the incoming and out-going money flows, and handed the whole listing to wonderful Ian, who prepares my return (and yes I am still in time, for people who are self-employed have a filing deadline of June 15 here in Canada, whew!). The process of looking at everything, being methodical about it, and just steadily working my way through the stacks of receipts, bank statements, etc. has been remarkably calming. In previous years I’ve felt anxious, worried that I’d mess up. I now realise that those feelings of edginess also made me very inefficient, for they led me to take irregular stabs at organising, in between periods of avoiding the job. This year, by committing to being steady, I made the job tidier in every sense of the term.

That methodical, just-plod-through-it-until-it’s-done style seems to have carried over into other aspects of daily and yearly maintenance: It’s the season for getting the garden in order, and this year, instead of being very approximate and inattentive, I have dug in manure and tidied up lost corners (no it’s not a big garden, just a small enclosed back yard, but even so junky nooks and crannies had managed to create themselves). The result is a cleaner lovelier space, yes, and a happier me. 

I think this is more than the pleasure or relief of crossing off something on a to-do list. It is a changed perspective, a new attitude to how to take on chores and obligations. It’s put a spring in my step, this “cleaning” of my attitude.

I do wonder what has helped lead me to this new place. Perhaps just time and growing wisdom? I’m persuaded that it’s something more.

I think that often when we change some small-seeming pattern of behaviour it can shift things more deeply, change our perspective, and free us to move into a new “season”. One new and different thing I’ve done recently is to take an art class (my first ever), three hours of drawing class every Wednesday afternoon at the Art Gallery of Ontario for five weeks in all. In four short weeks (only one class left to go, alas) the instructor, Kelley Aitken, has led us to “see” in ways we hadn’t before. She has insisted that rather than drawing lines, we work with lights and darks. She’s taught us to see tone as the way in which we see contour. We’ve learned to use tone (degrees of shading) as the best way to communicate three-dimensional contour on a flat sheet of paper, using only pencils of various degrees of softness.

Yesterday at the coffee break I found myself looking at another of the students and seeing his face in terms of lights and dark, areas of brightness and shadow, so that it broke down into pieces or patches of different shades. It was as if Kelly had gradually helped me grow another pair of eyes.

Because of making photographs all this time, I have a fairly strong sense of geometry and line, and an eye for light, but this way of seeing is entirely new, a matter of close attentive observation, rather than preconception. The world around me has become much more three-dimensional, in subtle as well as more obvious ways.

It is thrilling to discover a new faculty and to see with different eyes. Travel often gives me a fresh perspective. Often when I return home I am moved to shift things around, reorganise the kitchen or whatever. But this fresh sight feels like a stronger and more lasting change of perspective. And I feel that it’s leading to all kinds of new patterns.

What a pleasure, to realise that there are more windings in the path ahead, and to not know what lies around the next corner.

1 comment:

Keri Smith said...

Even in the small space of an apartment, cleaning services do come in handy! I usually hire one once a year to help with the spring cleaning. Then I can focus on the finer details of keeping my apartment clean! :)