How anal am I in terms of keeping my domestic surroundings (including the car) spotlessly clean and fresh-flower fragrant? On a scale of 1 to 10, I’m somewhere in the realm of 7.5 or 8.

I’m nowhere close to being a Joan Crawford-level scrubfreak, and yes, I do tend to burrow into mindstreams while writing and am therefore not focused on house-cleaning during work hours. But I do believe in order, tidiness, hot water and Bounty paper towels, bristle brushes, taking the garbage out, watering the plants, Comet cleanser and sweeping up and vacuuming…I don’t know, two or three times per month.

When I was 21 and sharing a house with some people I given a short broom and dust pan as a Christmas present, because I was the tidiest person in the house by far. How many HE readers can honestly say “I was such a neat freak when I was young that I was actually given cleaning implements for a Christmas present?” None, I’d imagine.

But now I live with an obsessive who has wiped clean that memory and bestowed a new identity. I am now a coarse, snorting, hopelessly undisciplined animal who wasn’t brought up properly and lacks any sense of serious rigor in terms of wiping, scrubbing, vacuuming and the like — a person who creates and lives in “a pig’s place.”

Tatiana’s mother was in fact a Russian Joan Crawford — a “down on your knees with a bucket of hot water and a scrub brush” cleanliness Nazi who struck terror into her children’s hearts. When her mother announced an intention to visit Tatiana in college, the dormitory room was cleaned top to bottom in anticipation of her arrival, and even then her mother took one look, was seized with alarm and got down on her knees and went after the dust bunnies under the beds. And so, in a sense, I am living with that manic Crawford exactitude and fastidiousness on a daily basis.