Tuesday, January 27, 2009

In an all-too-rare burst of ambition tonight, I put on Aerosmith's Big Ones before resolving to put a load of dishes in the washer and clean up a bit before exercising. The idea is that by the time the third track, Rag Doll, comes on, I'll be just about done with cleaning and energized by the music, ready to conquer some cardio. It doesn't work out this way.

The state of my house-- and by house, I mean cheap-ass, soul suckingly unwelcoming trailor that I had hoped and prayed to be out of by now-- is such that I find myself exasperated and overwhelmed just trying to put it into words. The mess is no one's fault but my own, and, possibly, to a lesser extent, Zack's, but all the same, I feel victimized by it. And feeling victimized by and responsible for something awful is a very bad feeling. I'm not sure if you know.

Peter Walsh, the author of It's All Too Much, says that one of the major warning signs of a clutter problem is if you have trouble with "flat surfaces"-- that is, if every table, counter, desktop and shelf is constantly, and forever covered. Picturing this state will give you a very accurate foundation upon which to build the mental image of my household, if you so masochistically dare. In the kitchen, there is a kitchen table which we've literally never eaten a meal of any kind at, and an air hockey table, displaced from a spare room during a short stint when a friend inhabited it a very, very long time ago. Both are piled high with...jesus christ, what a hateful list it is. Coats, hats, scarfs, a banjo, unpaid bills, unused envelopes that have been sealed shut by the humidity in the air, and then boxes-- four or five different kinds of boxes, holding useless things that we have not had occasion to so much as glance at since they've been put into those boxes. Zack has...a great deal of boxes like these, containing knick-knacks that he is pathologically protective of. This fondess for odd little things, I think, would have the makings to be charming, if not for the fact that, as I said, these things are all in little plastic boxes that are never opened, but seem to have some sacred right to their places, scattered throughout the house: three on our kitchen table, one in the pantry, some buried in the closet in one corner of the spare room, others catalogued on a colorful rack in the other.

These boxes, let it be said, are not a topic of conversation, lest that conversation should become evidence of my attempt to finally and completely assimilate him, having, evidently, no respect whatsoever for his earlier way of life. As if, were I some mastermind manipulating everything to get my way, this is the way I would choose to live.

As it happens, though, the boxes that are entirely his are not the only ones around. It occurs to me, only now, that what I once respected as Zack's great ability to be focused and productive when cleaning and organizing is merely his tendency to put things into boxes, and then leave them somewhere out of the way. Another box which is just as much a permanent feature of our house as anything is the one that stores items we got for christmas several years ago-- things we never wanted, needed, or asked for, but they show up in stockings and in brightly-colored paper anyway. This is my fault, too-- isn't everything?-- because, at christmas, I've made such a big deal out of pacing myself as I open my gifts, so as not to run out of presents while everyone else has something left to open, that I must be sending the message very clearly that I value quantity just as much as quality. I imagine, though, that it would be impossible to avoid either way, to some extent-- everyone has some aunt who has no idea what they like but makes a losing effort every year. The one that gets Zack sports paraphinilia. The many that get me candles or talking clocks or something of equally broad unappeal. This christmas box appears every year-- a new one, I mean. I wonder where Zack has put them all. Found one under the sink the other day.

There's a lot to say. Closets filled with ripped sheets and boxes of notebooks and cans of paint. The bookcase with just as many books piled on top as there are on the four shelves. The fact that we've never had a permanent place to keep clean socks or underwear. The joke of a filing cabinet. And all the stuff-- so much stuff-- that should have been taken out of here years ago. But let's skip to "the trouble with the situation." The trouble with the situation is this: the place is not only incredibly disorganized, it's also incredibly dirty. And this puts me at an almost philosophical standoff-- which to conquer first? It's very difficult to just clean up if there isn't anywhere to put anything-- if almost everything that is on the stained counter, on the dirty stovetop, has no place else to be. But you have to put it somewhere first, before you decide where it finally goes. And that place is likely to be a box. And then we are likely to run out of energy, and leave it there, into perpetuity. At the very least, you need some space in which to gather all the homeless objects before finding homes for them, and that space just isn't something we have.

I feel like this has become more of a rant than anything else, and I'd probably be suspicious of anyone who showed interest in reading it. Still, there was a point, a moment of inspiration that caused me to start writing this, and wouldn't it be a shame if that got lost in the clutter, too? Oh, did I mention that? The losing things? How something you just fucking saw is all at once gone, absorbed by the doom around you, and there's this feeling that you get...sometimes it's rage, sometimes it's nausea, sometimes it's despair. That was one part of my point.

What you really need to understand is that while it may seem that I live in a very dirty, cluttered house, what I really live in is a metaphor. A perfect microcosm of the larger life which it contains, the larger life which the house is only one part of. What better representation of the hopeless-feeling confusion of my finances, the sisyphusian pursuit of my sex life, the infinite rubik's cube that is my health and happiness. Though, honestly, if I could ever conquer those first three-- the house, the finances, the sex-- health and happiness might just fall into place on their own.

It goes without saying that by the time Big Ones played through, I hadn't begun exercising, and, drained by the disorder around me and my fruitless attempts to make some iota of progress with it, no longer had any intention to. (On a related note, Peter Walsh's second book is called Does this Clutter Make my Butt Look Fat?) I was, at this point, on the couch, writing checks for some unpaid bills simply because I had no where to put them, as the final track, Livin' on the Edge, was playing. I never thought very much of this song before. I assumed, without listening very hard to the lyrics, that living on the edge referred to living a dangerous way, a throw-caution-to-the-wind, devil-may-care, rockstar way, the way a Steven Tyler might.

In that moment-- and I don't know if it was when I was shaking and sucking the end of my dying pen so that I could finish writing my return adrress, lest I have to somehow find another one, or when I was putting two thirty-nine cent stamps on the envelope because all my stamps are old, and even if they weren't, I have no idea what the price of a stamp is nowadays, and it's worth mentioning that it was a miracle I could find the stamps after all-- I don't know which of those moments it was, but I heard these lyrics:

"Tell me what you think about your situation.
Complication, aggravation is getting to you."

And I knew. That song isn't about his way of life, it's about mine.

I notice the bill says I should detach a stub and include it with my payment, but it's not perforated. I turn for the pair of scissors that, characteristically out of place, was sitting on table in front of me moments ago. They aren't there now, and I feel nausea well up inside of me.

"You can't help yourself from falling.
You can't help yourself at all."

On with it.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

You tell me: did this one slip through the cracks, or have you heard about it? Because I've yet to hear anyone gossip, horrified, around the watercooler about it, and it's that kind of news.

In a small town in Belgium on Friday, a man in black and white face paint breaks into a daycare center and, unprovoked, starts stabbing babies with an 8-inch knife. Kills a nine-month old, a six-month old, and one caregiving employee, and wounds (I hate how vague that word can be-- stabs) ten more children and two more adults. When they found him later, he had the addresses of two other day care centers in his backpack.

This is doing with news what movies like Saw and Hostel did with entertainment (and I use that term loosely)-- ripping a jaded generation harshly out of its comfort level of "shit happens". I don't consider myself a particularly sensitive or maternal person, but, walking into a daycare center and stabbing babies? What the fuck?

Obviously, an outpouring of support and condolences have manifested themselves in every form, and apparently there is a facebook group you can join if you'd like to take a stand-- that is to say, if you'd like to boldly make that controversial political statement, "I don't support baby stabbing." I have to wonder if these kinds of measures really bring any solace to the victim's families, or if it is simply the kind of reaction that happens an overstimulated, internet-bound generation finds itself, for the first time, shocked.

Perhaps I'd be more inclined to offer my cyber-regret if not for how quickly my sorrow turned to annoyance: the end of the first article I read about this truly heinous crime ended with this sentiment from a local bakeshop owner: "It's something you here about in America, not here."

As a jaded, young, American national, we have now seen how it takes baby stabbings to shock me, and, evidently, the accusation of a free-wheeling, baby-stabbing morale climate to offend my ailing sense of patriotism. You expect this to happen in America, Belgium? Really? I guess our ignorant, benevolent attitude towards you isn't a two-way street: all we every expected out of you were waffles. I tried to put this quote behind me, reminding myself that this was the attitude of but one, traumatized baker; then I realized that a similar quote I read in a seperate article wasn't a second translation of the words of the original man, but a second expressing the exact same idea. "We thought that things like this only happened in the United States and now we see that in Belgium, in a small village like this ... that such a thing could happen, it is very, very bad,"

There's a lot to mourn for here. The loss of two young children, the injury of ten more, the hurt and killed caregivers, the traumatized community. The loss, perhaps, of the entire Belgian nation's innocence. And, not insignificantly, the realization that this is how bad things have gotten: we all knew that America's standing in the eyes of the world took a beating during the Bush Administration. I guess we just didn't know it was such a bloody, wailing massacre.

Good luck turning it around for us, Obama. If the rest of the world is to be believed, you better hope you don't let us down.

On with it.