Friday, August 8, 2014

Thank you, Mr. Levine

Over the years my parents went to many parent-teacher conferences, after which they would report back to me what the teachers had said about me and my performance. Of all those comments, I remember only one.

I was generally a good and well-behaved student, so there were never any serious problems. Back then grades were either "S" for satisfactory or "N" for needs improvement. (Today's grade/test/number obsessed educators would do well to reconsider this system, but I'll save that rant for another day). My report cards were consistent. Beside every category, except one, was an "S." My one "N" was for penmanship, which remains an area in need of improvement.

Maybe my sixth grade teacher, Mr. Levine, was thinking about my penmanship when he told my parents, "Some people find it easy to be neat. Jane has to work at it." Alas, 'tis true. Over the years as I've struggled to keep my house, my car, my desk, or my life in order, Mr. Levine's words have come back to me over and over again. It's not that I don't try to keep things neat and orderly, it's just that, well, it's a lot of work, and while I'm straightening out the book case, I find  a book I'd forgotten about, and intended to read, and before you know it, the cleaning project is abandoned, and I've put my feet up on the book case, and I'm reading that novel I bought years ago.

So, part of the problem is that I'm easily distracted, and when it's something I'd rather do than create order, I do that, and, truth be told, there are LOTS of things I'd rather do than  create order. But it's not just that. I truly believe there is a gene that makes some people naturally neat. I suspect Mr. Levine had one of those.

Take, for instance, my friend Agatha (not her real name). She is naturally neat. Her house is always in perfect order, her clothes always clean and freshly ironed (I think I remember where my iron is, but maybe not), and her desk is always free from clutter. Now all that may be due to the fact that she works at this, which she does, but here's my argument for the genetic difference. She even sleeps neatly. Yes, sound asleep, no longer conscious of her neatening compulsion, um, I mean habit, she is neat.

Consider the following: Several years ago we were vacationing at a friend's cottage on the Cape. We shared a room with twin beds. At bed time Agatha folded back the covers on the bed she had made with neat hospital corners, slipped herself into the bed, leaving nary a crease in the bed clothes, lay on her back, and pulled the covers up to her neck and fell asleep.

On the other side of the room, I climbed into my bed, which I had made as well as genetically possible, turned over on my stomach and fell asleep. In the morning I woke up in a cocoon of sheets and blankets created by my activity during the night. Maybe I was having butterfly dreams, but before I could get out of bed, I had to unwrap myself, ending up with all the covers on the floor.

Finally disentangled, I stood up and looked over at Agatha's bed where she lay flat on her back, covers neatly folded under her chin, exactly as she had looked eight hours earlier. I was amazed; I never knew it was possible to sleep without moving. It was then that I concluded that Mr. Levine was probably right. Some people like Agatha were just naturally neat, and clearly I was not. 

What a relief! Now I can go back and finish reading that book.