Neatness is a tenet of cleanliness having more to do with the tidy arrangement of lines and corners than the level of dirt on a given surface. I believe in neatness and have used its laws of ordered edges and perfect right angles in all my daily endeavors. I find great value in the art of arrangement, the installation of organization in an otherwise chaotic array of circumstance.
I have supposed for many years now that my inclination for neatness stems from my early schooling. After starting at a new school halfway through first grade, I found myself struggling to understand a vast new environment peopled with kids who all seemed to know instinctively what to do with a baseball, basketball, or kickball, and whose subtraction skills seemed as wholly developed as those of tiny chemical engineers. Very much intimidated, and feeling somewhat lost, I began to assign order to the little world of mine that originated in the insular orb of my kid-sized desk. In neatness, I excelled.
Though I may have fumbled with some math and completely bastardized the serious sport of kickball as practiced by my peers, I could fill in a sheet of writing paper with the grace of an ancient scribe. My Dixon Ticonderoga, chewed to a grotesque and soggy pulp and clenched in a tiny pale vice grip, could fly across that grayish paper with an ease and self-confidence that failed to accompany me into many other subjects. “The quick red fox jumps over the lazy brown dog.” That rote lyric became lines of Whitman on my page, the curves and the angles bisecting each other at all the right times, rounding up that alphabet into a landscape of achievement and promise.
I tiled the small surface area of my desk with artfully completed worksheets and writing papers. Inside the desk, I stacked my workbooks in size order, careful not to bend their corners or accidentally fold their pages. My teacher praised me for my tidiness, and while I could not for the life of me find the school’s cafeteria or remember my new phone number, I had order and familiarity just an arm’s length away, inside my desk and all the way in the back, where my pencils were organized by color, size, and the sharpness of their points.
More than a few people have alerted me to my obsessive compulsive attraction to the order and geometry of objects and lines. Fair enough. I know how much time I spent drawing and redrawing letters and lines, or organizing the surface of my desk, but there was only so much I could control as a shy first grader, and there’s only so much I can control now. If I can look at my things and recognize order and the control I have over my environment, I am more than happy to spend the extra minute adjusting my script or stacking my books into shipshape piles, spines aligned, largest to smallest.
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