I’m usually pretty philosophical about my clutter. A month or so ago, there was an article going around about the workspaces of famous creative people. I was cheered by the fact that some of them were messier than I am (Alexander Calder and Francis Bacon) or equally messy (Martin Amis and maybe William F. Buckley and Nigella Lawson).
I took a picture of my desk, planning to post it in that context, but never got around to it.
It came back to bite me the other day, when I was burglarized.
Shock and awe
This past Saturday, I was away from home from 10 to 6 working on my Kickstarter video; I knew I’d be gone for a long time so took my dog Madeleine with me. It was a productive but exhausting day. I came in and immediately fed Madeleine — she’s even more impatient than I am when it comes to food — and started making my own dinner. I opened a beer and went into the living room to turn on the TV.
It wasn’t there.
I did a double take. Heart sinking, I went into my office and confirmed that my iMac was gone too.
I live on a busy street. That’s two very large items carried out in broad daylight. No doors were broken down, and the point of entry was unclear. This was all very disturbing.
I called the police. They told me to leave things as they were.
The shame spiral
They didn’t come for several hours, during which time I inventoried my other losses. BluRay disc player. Camera. A box with some gold jewelry.
One of the joys of living alone is that I don’t have to be tidy. But I started looking at my house and myself through what I imagined would be the police’s eyes: Messy middle-aged woman living alone with small dog.
I know, they’ve seen worse. Women with meth teeth, for example, or with 50 cats.
I nevertheless became convinced that they would think I was robbed because I am slovenly. And single. If I took better care of my things and/or there was someone else at home to watch over them, the robbers would not have succeeded.
Never mind that couples often leave the house together, and that impeccable housekeepers get robbed too.
Also, I’d realized that the robbers probably came in through an unlocked side door. It had been painted shut for years and I had forgotten that I’d recently gotten a handyman to force it open. Securing it was not a part of my routine. This now added to the certainty that the robbery was entirely my fault.
By the time the police arrived, I had crossed over into an alternative universe where rational thought is prohibited.
Sinking deeper — and re-emerging
I was lucky, I knew. Madeleine had not been in harm’s way, and I’d had my laptop with me. My desktop’s external hard drive had been hidden under a pile of papers — ha! — so I had all my data from there too.
And while most people feel a sense of physical insecurity as a result of robbers entering their homes, I didn’t experience that to a debilitating degree. I was pretty sure I’d figured out how the thieves had entered — and knew that they knew I had nothing of value left. And Madeleine may be small, but she’s alert — and has a loud, deep bark. Except for the first night, when I was really shaky and couldn’t sleep, I didn’t feel unsafe.
So I naturally created a personalized hell as I began filling out my insurance forms.
My computer, bought new in 2009, was a 2008 model. Computer years are even longer than dog years. My iMac was beyond geriatric, a member of the old old tech demographic. I was certain that if I was a better person (writer, editor, caretaker of my dog), I would have newer, nicer things.
To get stolen.
I next began to wonder what had happened to me. I used to travel around the world and write primarily for major magazines. Now I rarely went anywhere and was always scrambling to make ends meet.
Somewhere in the course of that shamefest I came to my senses.
I remembered that what happened to me was that I got my first dog, Frankie, and that he didn’t like to travel and then developed diabetes. That as a result, I wrote a well-reviewed dog book, the first of my four that was wholly my own concept and execution (the others were series travel guides). That the reason I got a new computer in 2009 was that I’d gotten an advance on the aforementioned dog book. That the publishing industry in general and travel publishing in particular has changed immeasurably since then, and that I’m far from the only one struggling with this new reality. And that I’m about to devote my energies to a memoir about that not-so-halcyon past — and will write it on a new computer, if all goes well with my insurance claim.
Who needs a Kickstarter or a publisher’s advance when you’ve got robbers?