Lares were Roman deities who protected, among other things, crossroads and boundaries. Within a household, they protected all of those within the boundaries of the family line. Penates were the guardians of the pantry and wealth of the family, related to Vesta, the goddess of the hearth. Together, they were often worshiped in a family shrine.
Lares and penates. My desk and study are full of them.
A painted china pig, with chipped ears and one penny rattling around inside of it, a pig that was old when I first claimed it as my own as a child. A little ceramic owl, chosen from a collection of owls at calling hours for a friend who wanted her owls to go out into the community after her death. A little soft plastic Pegasus that will make its way into my novel. A papier-mâché fish, which opens to reveal a cache of paperclips. A string of little wood houses, a few small rocks from Lake Superior, a skeleton Frida for Day of the Dead. A geode holding a dime won over a poetry bet and a piece of paper with a quote about poetry. A small framed picture of Warren.
If you sit at my desk and look at the walls and at the back of the door, which serves as a wall to my left, you will see more. There are photos and postcards of places I
have been, poems, two articles on writing, one of which is Neil Gaiman's thoughts about it. There is a cover off of the University of Chicago Magazine, showing a street sign for University Avenue covered in snow. On a bookshelf on the other side of the door are photos of Sam, Ben, Alise, Ramona, and Warren. Behind me in the small bookshelf: a Mason jar with marbles, a heavy glass horse head bookend I have had as long as the china pig, my engagement gong.
Years ago when I moved out of the house and into my first post-marriage space, I had a small study tucked into a walk-through space. My desk, a table, looked out onto an urban rooftop that could have graced any Edward Hopper urban painting. On the wall next to my desk, I taped anything that caught my eye. Quotes, photos or bits of photos, magazine pictures of Mini Coopers, buildings. By the time I moved out, I had covered a good six square feet or more of the wall. My study today is a variation of that wall.
My writing habits have changed over the last decade plus. I deliberately created this space but I rarely write—in the sense of creation—there. In the old days, the days of the apartment above the streets, I would make notes on buildings, put on headphones, and, often starting at 11:00 p.m. or later, bang out a 2500 word article on architecture while listening to Queen. Now I most often write in pen, usually somewhere other than my desk, then turn it into a column or a post while sitting at my desk surrounded by my lares and penates. This post started out on a concert program, while Warren played timpani up in front of me. I will carry this program home, carry it up to my study, and turn my scribbles into print.
When I read articles about decluttering and simplifying, my desk and its surrounds could be called clutter by the authors. Too much clutter.
And maybe someday I will feel that way. But for now I see lares and penates, guarding my desk, guarding my home, guarding my loves.