Today was my son Theo’s last day of 4th grade. It hasn’t been his easiest year, as he was unsure about his friendships at the start and struggled with aspects of his work throughout the year. However, mostly thanks to his main teacher, Mrs. Chan (mentioned in my January 12 blog), who was firm and encouraging throughout the year, he managed to end the year well with a decent report card and a certificate that read “Best Improvement in Attitude.” He also seems to have found himself socially and has a good group of friends. Perhaps because it was such a challenging year and has ended better than I had imagined, I got very emotional today as I thanked his teachers and wished fellow parents a good summer.
In particular, I wanted to thank Mrs. Chan, and I gave her some bracelets that I actually purchased especially for her, something I haven’t been doing much of this year. However, I also wanted to give her something of mine that would be meaningful and perhaps useful to her in her future classes. Because she had let me teach her class origami a couple of times during the year, I gave her the book Origami Magic by Florence Temko, one of the great pioneers of origami in the United States in the second half of the 20th century. I came to know of her when I was planning my first exhibition of contemporary origami art, Folding Paper, a few years ago. Temko was a great educator and author on the subject, writing over 55 books on the subject and helping to make the art of paper folding hugely popular in this country. The book contains many great designs, explained at the right level for Mrs. Chan to use with her students next year. I love the idea that the knowledge acquired by one skillful teacher and can be passed along by another.
I will miss working with and learning from Theo’s kind and talented teacher, but like Theo, I have to accept this change and move on through another summer and onto all the challenges that await us in the coming school year.
Since late last year, I’ve been aware of Marie Kondo’s book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, which was released in the US in October 2014 and has become a huge best-seller here as people battle with their belongings. Kondo is a Japanese de-cluttering expert who has taken the world by storm with her almost mystical approach to organizing stuff and purging ourselves of things we don’t need in our lives. Her attitude is ruthless but kind at the same time. She believes that our belongings should “spark joy” in our lives, and each of them should have a place that they can call home. Without a home, an object sits on a surface and becomes clutter. If our belongings don’t make us happy – like that beige sweater that was never flattering or the books we know we’ll never actually read – we should get rid of them. But before that, we should thank them for their service. In her method, which involves getting rid of what we don’t need and then organizing what remains, she sees no place for storage bins or other organizing tools. If we only have what we need, we will have plenty of room to house it all.
One of her main rules is to purge in one go, and not create “maybe” piles for belongings that might be allowed to stay. She argues that once the purge has been done, good habits can take place. She might not approve of my daily giveaway approach, but then, my goal is not simply to get rid of stuff, but also to focus on the people in my life. However, because she has such a simple, respectful and magical approach to stuff, today, in her honor, I adopted her “organized purge” approach to some of my drawers, going through undergarments, socks and t-shirts and throwing away those items that always bother me a bit and those that I never seem to need. I filled a plastic bag full of these and headed for one of the yellow Planet Aid Clothes and Shoes bins close to our home (http://www.planetaid.org). Thanking the items I used for their service and the ones I hadn’t used for their patience, I dropped the bag into the bin and hoped that some of the items might “spark joy” in the lives of a recipient half way across the world.
In the mornings, my son Theo likes to ride his scooter to school. We live on a sloping street and he speeds down the hill to the end of the road and then for the rest of the way, he weaves his way past other families all the way to the schoolyard gate. I run behind him carrying his backpack like a lopsided Sherpa. I willingly take on this role so that he can enjoy his journey to school and avoid further visits to the chiropractor for his back. Then after I drop him off, I wheel the scooter back towards home, sometimes jumping on and propelling myself along the street when I’m feeling particularly perky. Most days, I stash it behind the tree at the end of the street while I go for my morning walk along the lake and then pull it out from its hiding place on my way back home. One morning this week, I forgot to pick it up from behind the tree, and the next morning when I realized my mistake and looked for it behind the tree, it was gone. I was crushed. I felt truly rotten that I’d lost Theo’s fun scooter – I hadn’t meant to give that away to anyone! During one of my breaks from beating myself up, it occurred to me that Adam, our neighbor who lives in the house by the tree, might have put it away to keep it safe, so I sent him an email and hoped for the best.
(Photo by Luis Sinco, LA Times)
This morning, he replied saying he had done exactly that. When I looked out of the front window, I saw him riding up the street towards our house. I had been saving an iron candelabra to give him, so I grabbed it and took it out to him, asking if he might be able to use it for his tree. In any other neighborhood in Los Angeles, this might sound like an odd idea, but the tree behind which I had stashed the scooter is no ordinary tree. It is probably the most famous tree in Los Angeles – the Chandelier Tree, a hundred year-old sycamore that arches out over the end of our street and glows at night with the light of 40 or 50 chandeliers. Adam has been collecting them for several years now and, with the help of his aerialist roommate Brion, has hoisted them up into the branches, rewiring and weatherproofing them to create a magical tree that draws smiles from neighbors and attracts visitors from all over town. The LA Times recently wrote a feature (http://www.latimes.com/home/la-hm-chandelier-tree-20140712-story.html). After our house fire, we gave him the small chandelier from our damaged home, and today’s candelabra might join it up there some day. I’ve been thinking a lot about giving lately. Adam’s glorious tree, born of his creativity and generous spirit, is a real gift to those around him.