(This is a post recovered from MS Word Autosave, 6/8/14)
I’m a neat person—well, I try to be a neat person. I try to get myself on a regular exercise routine, I try to allocate time in my day to writing and music, I try to be social, I try to read real books instead of internet articles, I try to be neat. Of all of these, I have the most consistent success in neatness. I think neatness is quite the praiseworthy virtue, and though I’m not a capital-G “God” person, I do believe cleanliness is the only thing I’ll ever call godly, and the strongest evidence that mankind is capable of creating perfection is peer-reviewed and published in the pages of Dwell magazine.
My neatness isn’t tied to my spirituality, nor to a deity, nor to a desire for praise. My neatness is directly tied to my feels at a given moment. My emotions are painted on the canvas of my home, in the medium of items and food splatters. In sadness I sulk, wallow, fester, dishes go undone, clothes pile in the bedroom, LPs stack up next to the turntable, desktop files pile haphazardly at the edges of my browser. This doesn’t last long. My frustration simmers until eventually, in a fit of rage (usually at myself, for eating cereal out of a ziplock container with a butter knife), I clean everything. Clothes are folded, papers are sorted through ruthlessly, books are returned to their shelves, my mind is cleared and calmed, and my time of sorrow ends. I’m fortunate enough to longer be inclined to longer periods of major depression, so these periods typically last for a few days at most.
Anger, anxiety, excitement, frustration—these states yield order. I secretly and cautiously treasure these times. I argue with my boyfriend while I ready the entire kitchen for hospital surgery. I reorganize my furniture in the bleary confusion of returning home late at night after a week’s vacation. The whole bathroom is scrubbed during finals week. My teeth grind and my heart beats and when I behold my work, I smile and move on. These are not frantic states, but thinking states, processing states, focused busywork given to the wild mind to tame it.
The fruits of happiness are as amorphous and vague as the state itself. In happiness, work is done with robotic regularity and creative control; I clean the dishes, fold every article of clothing, make the bed, and reconstruct the disassembly of the day’s happenings, all more or less with the attitude of a Roomba. I just do these things. There’s no compulsion or revulsion, no whys or hows, no laters or not nows, they’re just done because they should be done. Happiness is a state of maintenance: when we’re happy, our brains will do anything to ride the train as far as it goes. We take more risks, we spend more money, we seek more pleasure, we enjoy more. I do those things, and I also clean. If I were to stop cleaning, let the apartment slide a bit into disarray, my happiness would recede with it. So I clean automatically, without thinking, as one would nod to a stranger, or sing along to a Ke$ha song. Maintenance is the easy part of emoting. Any lazy asshole could sit in a dark room and listen to Radiohead and go down the never-ending pit of darkness and despair. For others it’s easy and natural to go outside, run around, tidy up, eat well, and think positively. Some people are good at maintaining sadness, some are good at maintaining happiness, I’m good at both but prefer to do what I can to stay happy. If that means doing the dishes I guess we’ll go with that.
So I notice a pattern: my boyfriend just moved to New Mexico to have an Adventure. I’m in Indiana, unable to reach him by much more than snail mail while he reaches enlightenment and oneness with the world through hard work changing lives in the mountains. I helped my boyfriend move away in the most literal of fashions, driving 7 hours to help him haul his life to a different time zone, and I returned the next day the lovely crossroads state to do the one thing I hate most in the world: school. I’m wallowing a bit there, yeah, but I’m really not happy about any of it. The whole situation is less than ideal, but I’m rolling with it and making the best of it. Hey—no one wants to hang out at the bars? Great! More money for my bougie wine, more time for satisfactory completion of homework, and and I don’t even have to sacrifice my Netflix binges. The whole thing with the boyfriend being 20 hours away is rough, but I’m confident the situation will resolve itself. I’m drinking wine in moderation, eating well, going to class, engaging in leisure, taking to people with sanity, watching television, doing homework, existing well.
But the dishes are undone.
LPs are stacked next to the turntable.
The floors are dirty.
Piles of clothing have formed nations in my bedroom and are engaged in a territory war.
Even more telling: my overnight bag from our trip to Iowa last weekend is overflowing at the foot of my bed. Now, this is the mundane thing in Sherlock that we all overlook until for some dumbass Moffat-esque reason it becomes the central plot point to the whole season sometime in the last five minutes of episode three. I was taking out the garbage today, feeling sorry for myself, thinking about the heartbreaking futility of my efforts to keep myself alive and happy with fresh, healthy foods in the face of my crushing and infinite futility, when I became hyperaware of this cycle of negative thinking. Why would I feel sad? I’m taking out the trash, I cooked a complicated, tasty, healthful meal and enjoyed it, I did my homework and completed my tasks for the day. Why why why? Sure, there were some back dishes and clothes issues in the bedroom, but nothing too extreme, I’ve just been a bit down lately about the boyf and the separation anxiety.
Except the clothes in the bedroom aren’t any clothes, they’re the clothes I brought with me to see him off into the wild yonder. The clothes and items I put into a bag, knowing fully that these would be my offerings for my last time with him for many months—possibly, forever—the items I arranged carefully, hoping that maybe folding the shirts right or putting the makeup in the right zipper compartment would somehow make things run more smoothly, make him stay, make him want to stay—but what did I know of love’s austere and lonely offices? The clothes and items packed into the bag that, upon arrival back home, was dumped at the foot of the bed and sorted through carelessly to grab deodorant, hairbrush, underwear. The clothes and items that bring back the memory of sitting in his parents’ living room folding our laundry and laughing with his mother as she stitched up a rip in his swim trunks. The clothes and items in the bag that I bought in Taos on our first date. The clothes and items in the bag that I would throw thoughtlessly down in the kitchen when I went to visit him in Columbus before embracing him and laughing because he brought me a happiness more powerful than an organized closet. The background noise from our last brief weekend together in Iowa.
I’m not sure what will happen with our relationship—I’m not concerned about it, really—but I know I really don’t want to unpack that bag. I don’t want to put the clothes away. I don’t want to do the dishes, I don’t want to put everything in order, I want to cherish every item and the memories it holds, because unpacking the bag and putting the clothing away signifies the end, the acceptance, the acknowledgement that my trip to Iowa is over, as as a consequence, my in-person acquaintance with him is temporarily over—he is gone in New Mexico, unreachable, and life must go on back home with the requisite maintenance. It also means change and uncertainty, which is difficult for me to grab onto.
I don’t want to be here. I want to shove everything back into that bag and savor our last moments in Iowa again and again and forever. I want to go to New Mexico and be with my friends, I want to go anywhere where anything is better. The bigger issue is that I’m mentally just fed up with college and Bloomington, and this home stretch is a real push for me. I foresee adventure at the finish line, a beautiful uncertainty where possibilities are bountiful and rich.
Acceptance will come, in whatever form it takes, and life will go on. But with my apartment in disarray and my heart breaking and aching, I couldn’t say when.
(Temporal note: I’m doing fine and kicking butt in my classes. No mercy.)