Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cleanliness is Next to Die

Yeah, yeah, I know. I already posted today. Can I help it if I have a lot to say?

My mom has this thing about cleaning. It is tantamount to her-- it is ultimate. If her kitchen is clean when she gets home, the world is good and life falls into place. If it isn't... whoooo nellie. Watch out. Nothing is ok until that woman's space is organized, wiped down, sorted, scrubbed, vaccuumed, steamed, brushed-- you get the picture. Her desk is always a clutter of things that she has to do, and she does them because she needs them out of her way. Raising four kids, my mom rarely gets her way in the area of cleanliness. She's had to accommodate, settle for our less-than-best efforts. She's bribed, nagged, screamed, sobbed, pleaded, bargained, demanded- she's done everything in her power to make us CLEAN. And it worked pretty well for most of us- three out of four of her children have become her. They have taken on her inability to think in chaos, her heightened stress level when things get piled up too high, her desire for everything to fit neatly into its shiny little cubbie, the whole house glistening with peaceful cheer.
Not me.
For some reason this is my chief rebellion, the thing I seem to do to piss her off. Other kids do normal things like get weird piercings, sleep around, come home drunk, blast heavy metal, shoot heroine into their eyeballs. But not me. My addiction is to clutter. I love it. I love my little piles of rubble, my debris, my mess. I love my old candy bar wrappers, my stacks of books with the covers falling off, my unmade bed, my dirty socks, my shipping material, the five different journals in which I write spasmodically, guiltily, as if their pages have missed me while I was too busy living to document my thrilling life. I thrive, I thrill, I thrum among my own personal landscape of junk. I carve walkways on my floor, dirty laundry mingling with clean laundry, ants marching in dedicated formations under my bed to carry out particles of apple core, homework and notebooks scattered in ragged piles across the wasteland of my domain. My shelves are stacked with books-- the ones that aren't scattered on the floor. Books, books, and more books. Books on geology, books about lovers, history books, cook books, fantasy, mystery, steamy romance novels, poetry, philosophy, bibles, thrillers, classics; old books, new books, books that are falling apart, second hand books; books I loved, books I hated, books I haven't read yet. Around, behind, between, beneath the books are mementos, trophies, souvenirs of who I've been. A medal I got when I graduated high school, proclaiming me drama student of the year-- an award created for me, lasting only one year after I was gone. Willow Tree figurines, faceless and graceful. Carousel horses from that brief phase. Porcelain dolls. A gnome I sculpted, along with his brilliant purple Best of Show Ribbon from the county fair. Incense. Candles. Jewelry. Dollhouse furniture. Ceramic turtles.
If you're wondering when I start the part about the camera crew coming in a filming me for "Hoarders", that doesn't happen.
I don't know where this compulsion to create mess comes from. If you look at my desk, however, you will see that it is indeed there. I organize my desk about once a week, then sit down to write an essay or do some reading for class. I fidget. I get a water bottle. I pop in a cough drop and leave the wrapper on my desk. I pull out the assignment sheet and syllabus and look at them. I create a little cave of chaos around my laptop, and then I start working. I like to text while I write- text and eat and jiggle my right leg. And it helps if someone's making noise. A lot of people say they need absolute silence and peace to work, but I find I need a nice steady amount of distraction. Otherwise, the volume of my own thoughts freaks me out and I sit in front of the screen, humbled and afraid.
I guess I shouldn't say my messiness is my only rebellion-- there is that other thing. See, I think when my mom had three girls, I think she kinda envisioned the next twenty or so years being an epic game of dress -up. And that worked out great-- for about the first eight years of my life. Then suddenly I "decided" to become a chubber. It was not a good stage for me. Painfully shy, socially inept, brilliant in all the wrong ways, bossy, chronically afraid of everything, getting chunkier by the minute while going through a fairly early puberty with no friends and no hope that I'd ever have one... not that I'd ever been a particularly obliging or compliant child, but around that time I became a damn impossible one. It frustrated my mom, I think, seeing her bright, happy, pretty oldest daughter suddenly morph into a sullen, miserable, messy little chunk in a velour turtleneck (ahhh, fashion-- NOT one of my many talents).
I got it back, all of it, all my five year old enthusiasm and self-confidence. Everything but the pretty part. Now nobody would say I'm ugly, not in the face department, but let's face it- NOBODY wants to play dress-up (or, sadly, dress- down) with an independent-minded, size- 18 doll. And I know this bothers my pretty, practical mother. I can be as smart as I can be, and write the world's greatest novel, and be the world's most loving daughter-- and she sees that, really she does-- but the truth is, at the end of the day.... I'm still a fat slob. I still don't put things in their proper compartments, and neither do I fit in my own proper place. She loves me as much as a mother can love a child, and I know that, but the shape carved out for me in her heart is not quite the shape I really am. And as I get older, more and more I realize-- I don't want to be that shape. I kind of like who I am. I will always have this drive to please my mother, always be sad when I can't, but... somehow, it's no longer of the utmost importance. It's a painful problem for everyone involved.
I look around at my desk and I see things that are necessary to me. My pens, my makeup, my tissues, my cough drops, my water bottle, a sandwich, my cell phone, a veritable thicket of computer and charger and keyboard cords, some dishes. I see a world in which there will never be a time when I can say "Everything else is perfect now. I can sit down and write in peace." I see a world in which there will never be a time when I will say "I have done everything I should do. Now I'll do what I really want to do." No. In this life we get a certain number of days, of hours, minutes, seconds, moments. And I'm sorry, but I don't want to spend mine washing dishes and jogging. I'm sorry! I really am. I'm not that girl. I want to spend my time lost in other worlds, creating plots, ranting about the complicated, messy, inconvenient world that is not what I'd like it to be. My seconds will be spent at a desk, at a keyboard, in my head, in my mind, in a book. My minutes and hours, my passion, do not lie in having perfectly dustless curtains. And as much as I wistfully suck my stomach in when I try on clothes at the store, or fantasize about how perfect my life would be if I was thin, the truth is that the amount of time required is disproportionate to how much I really care.
I guess my point is, the world isn't quite what I'd like it to be. Why should I be what the world would like me to be? The world isn't peaceful and clean-- it's a mess. So why should my desk have to be any different?

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