I’m taking a “Building a Writing Career on the Internet” class on Catapult taught by Michele Filgate and I’m gonna go ahead and post all of my assignments here on the ole blog. Because, ya know, it’s on the internet.
This assignment, the first, asked us to write about something we’re ashamed of, feel vulnerable about, or are scared of. I ended up writing about something I’m not remotely ashamed of, but that other people might (do) think I should be. Because god forbid I should stick to the assignment. Truthfully, though, I do feel vulnerable about this. To which I raise both of my middle fingers and wave them around somewhat violently while making an unpleasant nyahhahhh sound.
I’ll likely be exploring this subject further. Also, forever. There’s a lot of shit to mine and I only scratched the surface. Mostly because it needs dusting and I hate dusting.
EDIT: I’d like to apologize to my ex-husband for how he seems to be characterized in this post. The situation between us that I’ve included here happened many, many years ago. Neither of us is the same person now as we were then (with the exception of my own slobbery, obviously), but we are still very good friends. It’s a situation from my life that serves to illustrate the issue of my own slobbery and my feelings about it and why it makes me feel vulnerable. It shouldn’t reflect on your judgment of the person he is now. We learn and we grow, with the possible exception of that thing about the cobwebs in the upper corners of rooms. I will never learn about that, and they will continue to grow.
I’m kind of a slob. I’m an unrepentant one, so it’s absurd that on a list of ten things I’m ashamed of or feel vulnerable about or am scared of, it’s the first item. I suppose I feel somewhat ashamed about it, but only when people come over, and I’m more annoyed that someone is in my space than I am that they are seeing my mess. They all judge the mess, some more silently than others. They can all go fuck themselves.
Eventually they leave, and I can lock the door behind them and wade through the soft, fluffy tufts of dog hair whispering over the tops of my feet, and plop back down at my kitchen table, where my laptop sits, surrounded by a cup of cold coffee, my iPhone, four bottles of nail polish, three pens, a cigarette lighter, a calendar (it’s a really awesome calendar from Field Notes, undated, so I can start a new one whenever, even in the middle of a year, which is awesome, because I hate to wait. I probably should have put “lack of patience” or “inability to delay gratification” on my list.), my AirPods, a copy of Patricia Ann McNair’s And These Are the Good Times, which I haven’t started yet, two extension tubes for my Fuji lenses that I bought over a year ago and haven’t ever used and just found when I cleaned out a cabinet so that I could move it into a different room (I’ll probably never use them—I prefer a wider view of the world, even my food shots are with nothing tighter than 35mm), a coaster for my 5 o’clock cocktail, a nail file, the case for my reading glasses, a coupon for a free little bundt cake from that bundt cake chain (I mean, the red velvet will melt you for Pete’s sake, and it’s little, so you don’t feel bad shoving the whole thing into your face and there’s no leftovers so you don’t have to get mad at anyone for finishing it without asking if you wanted it). A notepad listing all of the things I randomly remember that I have to pack before I head down to Florida tomorrow. Or maybe Thursday. I’m not sure when I’m actually going to leave, to be honest. Whenever I’m ready, I guess. I was supposed to leave two days ago. I want to get into the pool and I want to put my feet in the ocean.
Anyway, I’m working at my kitchen table because my desk is covered with stacks of mail and camera equipment and half-finished notebooks and lists of projects, and also a somewhat significant (depending on your opinion of such things) layer of dust and also it was my dad’s desk and it always feels weird to sit down and work at it. I get distracted by memories. I think about how I should keep a couple folded hundred-dollar bills in the top left-hand drawer like he used to do. Or the angle at which I would view this desk when sitting on the couch, where I only sat when I was awaiting my sentence for whatever major wrong for which I’d been busted. I think about how he would sweep everything on top of the desk into a garbage can if he saw all those piles. How he would say “How can you work with such a messy desk?” And how I would reply “I can’t. That’s why I’m at the kitchen table.” And he’d say “The kitchen table is just as bad!” And I would shrug. But he died a couple of years ago, so his questions are from a ghost. Go away, ghost. I’m a slob. I’m 48. Get over it, man!
The last time my father visited my house before he died, he said, as he was leaving, “Clean up your house.” Which is funny, because I’d spent the entire morning cleaning the house in preparation for his visit. But he had an eagle eye. He could see things I don’t ever see unless I’m sitting on the toilet for too long (how do the corners of bathrooms become dusty and do people intentionally clean them regularly? This is not a thing I understand. Or care about. If I ever paint the room, I will clean the walls then. Or pay someone else to do it).
But I took his words to heart, and after he died, I embarked upon a massive house project. I called those junk people who will come take away everything you point at. I sat down and sifted through boxes of stuff that had moved with me twice over the course of 8 years. I moved my front door and had a porch built and got a new front walk. Redid the landscaping. Replaced all the interior doors. Had the floors refinished. I’ve rid myself of unnecessary kitchen tools and appliances and mismatched plates and glasses. I’ve dropped carloads full of stuff at the Goodwill.
Still a slob. Still sitting at a kitchen table covered with a motley and disconnected collection of stuff. Still don’t care.
I mean, for real. Why is my mess a problem for you? You don’t live here. All that crap in all those books and articles about keeping a neat home (yes, I’ve read all of them. I think they’re under the bed if you’d like to borrow them) that claim one’s space is a reflection of one’s mind and vice versa? ABSOLUTELY TRUE. My mind is a mess. My mind is all over the place. My mind is filled with all kinds of bizarre and also very mundane things and too many bottles of out-of-fashion nail polish colors and hair products I will never use. My mind is six half-filled notebooks that got bored and wanted to start fresh. My mind is a hundred to-do lists with only half the stuff scratched off, and half of the scratched off things only got scratched off because a deadline passed and I didn’t have to do it anymore.
I LOVE MY MESSY MIND. I love the pink Christmas tree that I bought two years ago at the antique market that’s been on my mantel since then and is the only Christmas decorating that I do and I didn’t have to drag six boxes of stuff out of my basement and spread it around and then gather it all back up and put it away six weeks later like you did. And I bet it’s really dusty but I cannot see the dust from here.
Truth be told, all of the neat-and-tidy people I know are fucking crazypants. I mean, for real. Y’all are nuts. Y’all spend way too much time on that shit when you could be lounging on your bed playing a game on your iPad, or being creative. Or posting shit-talk about the President on Facebook. Or watching TV. Or having a cocktail and a smoke outside (it is so nice outside! In October! In Chicago!). Not to mention how expensive cleaning products are.
When my ex-husband and I were still married and still pretending like we weren’t completely incompatible as human beings living in the same house, we went to counseling. There was a thread of discussion throughout many of our sessions that revolved around my ex-husband being mad that I stayed home all day while he worked and the house was generally pretty messy (this isn’t entirely true—it was a lot cleaner than my house is now, but I digress. I digress a lot. Digressing is kind of my thing. It’s probably related to the slobbery, but anyway).
So, the counselor, after listening to John drone on and fucking on (I mean MY GOD, man, cut to the chase) about what a terrible housekeeper I am, turned to me and asked me how I felt about it. And I (probably tearfully, because honestly, fuck off with your whining and making me feel like shit about HOUSECLEANING THERE ARE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS GOING ON IN THE WORLD FOR FUCK’S SAKE) replied, sticking up for myself, talking about the things I did during the day, like taking care of our young children, and volunteering, and editing the newsletter for the school district, and coordinating the mailing of it, and going to the park, and going to the store, and going to graduate school and doing my homework, and blah blah blah you get the picture. All things that were a priority to me over cleaning the house. Not to mention (though I definitely mentioned it at the time in very strong terms) how much I hate cleaning. I mean HATE IS NOT A STRONG ENOUGH WORD. I despise it. Cleaning makes me want to cry. Cleaning makes me feel bad in my bones and I would rather do anything than clean. ANYTHING. (Well, almost anything. The ex did once claim that regular blow jobs would allow him to overlook the housekeeping situation. Commence never-ending blow-job strike.)
And then the counselor turned back to John and asked “What did she say?”
And he said, “She won’t do it.”
“That’s not what she said,’ the counselor told him, getting a shrug in reply.
So yeah, basically the man wanted me to cheerfully and regularly perform a task that I absolutely hated, to the detriment of all of the things that had to be done that I enjoyed, and, it turned out, that performing these tasks would prove I loved him and yeah, we’re divorced now.
Should I tell the part of the story about how the counselor challenged my ex to clean all of the things that bugged him around the house between that session and the next one two weeks later, and how five minutes before we had to leave, when he still needed to shower, he ran around the house with a Swiffer and nabbed all the cobwebs? And how when we sat down on the counselor’s couch, the first question of my ex-husband was “How many minutes before you left did you do any cleaning?” And how he then said, “So, it’s not that you care about the house being messy, it’s that you just want HER to clean it.” Lord, I don’t have enough memory on this computer to unpack that mess right now, but you get the picture.
When I bought my house, about two years after we split up, I walked around it and said “Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine.” Mine to make messy. Mine to decorate with pink Christmas trees. Mine to literally paint pink. All mine. So yes, I resent every last one of the people who walks in and says “Why don’t you get a cleaning lady?” Or “How can you work like this?” Or “is this a piece of dog hair in my food?” Or whatever. I reject the notion that my slobbery makes me an unloveable person, or that it means I don’t love or respect you.
My father said another thing on that last visit to my house before he died. He walked around, sizing up the various projects I’d done on the house since I’d bought it, and said “Well, it’s definitely lived in.”
And it is. Very lived in. Because it is an extension of myself. The plants are all alive. There’s a Dollywood trucker cap hanging on a nail on the sun porch. My photographs are hung on the walls and their frames are dusty and I don’t care. My cast iron pans are perfectly seasoned because I DO care very much about that. There are three empty laundry baskets in the dining room, sitting on top of a bankers box containing my grandfather’s slide projector and slides from when my dad was growing up. The candles drip wax on the mantel. There are leaves on the floor, tracked in by the dogs. Everything has a place, even if that place is on the floor of the living room.
It is lived in. It is me. And when you come in and roll your eyes at my piles, or at my dust? When you’re coming into MY space with all your judge-y bullshit?
Yeah, you get it. You get where I’m going with this. And no, thanks, I don’t need your therapist’s number.