I didn't have the time. I have so many other, more productive, necessary things to do. Yet, yesterday, I spent the whole day with the most energy that I have had in several months, obsessively cleaning out my apartment.
Not "cleaning," but "cleaning out." I opened unpacked boxes. Threw out old files. Weeded the wardrobe.
My apartment looks no different. Sure, a little more space opened up in the closets; but I still haven't hung any pictures, and I still have to take all of this excess stuff down to the dumpster, the recycling bins, and the resale shop. Now that I'm writing, I'm also thinking that I should go through a few more boxes, throw a few more things out, send a few more items to the resale shop.
Some of my energy could be excused by procrastination. Those online classes, sadly, do not grade themselves -- and there is a lot of grading with online classes. Nor do proposals for women's history classes, proposals for honors sections of African American history, applications for summer workshops, or programs for black history month write themselves.
I don't think that I was avoiding anything. I think that I was looking for something. I think that I was trying to clean out my brain, but since you can't really do that without some major surgery, I cleaned out my apartment.
My brother wrote to me for the first time since last March. I had invoked my new "no asshole rule" and cut him out of my life then. I've heard from my dad that the brother in question has been rather annoyed by my decision. I honestly didn't think that he cared. We haven't been close since the 1970s -- 1974, to be exact, when my other brother was born. Also, he told me that he doesn't care if people don't like him for being an asshole, and he expects them to "get over it." I've spent a lifetime "getting over it." I'm done.
"Am I still fired?" he wrote to me on Friday. I almost wrote back, "that depends on whether you are still committed to being an asshole." I almost wrote back, "do you even care?" I didn't. I didn't even spend time analyzing it for all of its self-centered implications. I ignored it until I just wrote about it, now.
This was followed by an e-mail from my mother telling me that this brother will definitely join the family for Christmas. For the past five years, this brother, his wife and their marital problems have created a significant amount of drama each holiday season, and a lot of that drama replicates drama that my mom created with my dad's family back when I was a kid. You would think that I could deal with this better as I get older, but find myself less and less able to deal. I either bite my tongue or pop off some smart ass remark.
Thank god for the babies. Playing "Monster" with a three year old is far more fun than playing with the monster adults. Playing Monster with the adults involves too much anger and guilt and self-loathing, which fills me with dread from October to December and anger and guilt from December to March. Half of the year ends up devoted to the fallout of the Dysfunctional Family Christmas. Something is clearly wrong.
So, I clean out my apartment.
Just after Christmas, my parents are going to New Orleans to begin the process of cleaning out my grandmother's house and putting it up for sale. My grandmother is a pack rat, so she has so many things. My parents, having various injuries and disabilities that are directly related to morbid obesity, want me to help out.
My grandmother is not dead yet, but she is working her way there. I maintain that the reason she is still alive is that neither God nor the Devil will take her. I picture them rolling dice, or playing rock/paper/scissors and saying "2 out of 3. O.k. 3 out of 5. O.k., then 5 out of 7" unto eternity. She is just that mean; but she is a post for another time, when I have the strength.
I feel as if selling her house and all of her possessions, without her having any real input on the matter, is disrespectful. Although I am not sure if I actually still love her, she is a fiercely independent adult who has been severely compromised by age. My mother, her daughter, uses every opportunity to show her hatred toward my grandmother. While I understand my mother's behavior, hatred in action is chilling to watch. My father treats my grandmother as he treats most women: like a large precocious child who must be protected from reality.
This act of cleaning out my grandmother's house, of selling or throwing away her possessions before she has died and yet without her inclusion in the process, depresses me. Yet, packing, disposing, selling items that belonged to our relatives always happens at the end of a life. We would be doing this one day or another, and I will have to do it for my parents, too. This is a natural part of the process of grieving.
Yet, I can't escape this question: is this all that any individual's life amounts to: the stuff that we have accumulated? Stuff that, to others, becomes salvage or trash. Stuff that only has meaning because of the person who owned it, and stuff that is, by connection to that person, also connected to violently contradicting emotions. To dispose of my grandmother's possessions feels like disposing of her. To keep them in my own possession means a constant reminder of those violent emotions connected to her.
So, I clean out my own apartment.
Next week is Thanksgiving, too. I'm going up to visit an ex-boyfriend in New England. While I'm up there, I'm going to That Place to do a book signing for my Tourist Book. These are two minefields for me as well.
The ex-boyfriend likes to brag -- no, not "brag" so much as exact a declaration from me -- that he is the "best boyfriend that I have ever had." That's probably true; but the bar is pretty low there given that my exes include the Homicidal Drunk, the Pathological Liar, the Attorney, the Hot Dumb Dude, the Fascist, and the Yankee Asshole, collectively known as the Chain of Fools. (Yeah, I could only understand love as demonstrations of disrespect if not outright hatred. Hence, I am essentially a hermit and celibate.)
I like this particular ex much better as a friend than as a boyfriend, if for no other reason that he will (begrudgingly) grant me ownership over my own body as a friend. As a boyfriend, he always had a difficult time understanding that access to my body was a privilege that could be revoked at MY will, and that the revocation of that privilege very often came as a direct result of his own bad behavior. At least now he accepts that he doesn't have the right to expect access to my body. He expects it, but he knows that he is in the wrong in expecting it and so doesn't make as big deal out of not receiving it. Sort of.
He's basically kind when he focuses on something other than himself, and helped me out in some very difficult times. We have had some good moments together; but ultimately he is a narcissist, and this becomes very difficult to endure. When we talk, a whole hour will pass in which I have said nothing but the obligatory "uh-huh" while he has filled me in on all of the mundane details of his life. He does not ask how I am doing, and when I tell him, he either rushes me to the end of my story, interrupts me to go on an hour long tangent about his own life, or finishes my own story for me, whether or not his version is accurate. He also has a nasty habit of telling me what my own experience of my own life is.
I feel like only part of a person around him, that only half of me is allowed into any interaction, and that half must have the proper script to be acknowledged and to avoid conflict. Pointing all of this out to him has proven fruitless.
He doesn't read this blog either.
I haven't called him in a while, and feel more like I should call him rather than that I want to call him. I wonder what good this relationship is now doing for me or my life, or if it is a souvenir of another period of my life when it did serve a useful function. I wonder if this is a healthy attitude to have about people in my life.
So, I clean out my apartment.
I also may regret offering to do this book signing. The signing seemed like a good idea partly to boost sales and partly to boost my ego. This Tourist Book made me more money in its first month than my Academic Book has made in five and a half years. That, of course, was the purpose. The Tourist Book is a product, a Happy Meal of publishing in which the prize was the book itself. The Academic Book is an intellectual contribution (although some would dispute that in my case). An Academic Book should earn you respect and a job. A Tourist Book earns you a royalty check.
The book signing will help on that royalty check front; but I also sort of want to go and bask in the glory of sitting in a commercial bookstore with a book that I wrote. It's a kind of childish fantasy that I can indulge, even if no one buys the book while I'm there. It's also a kind of ugly immature fantasy that my book signing is a sort of "fuck you" to some of the people who underestimated me while I was there, who saw me as a sort of symbol, as serving a function of making them feel like big fishes in a little pond but that had nothing to do with me myself. Does that make sense?
Anyway, that last nasty reason puts me face to face with the reality of just how horrible that part of my life really was. I feel a bit like a person who has been mugged must feel when they return to the scene of the crime. That, I had not anticipated until this week when I started to feel slightly shaky when thinking about going up there.
In fact, if any motion can be connected with any of the travels that I have to do in the next month an a half, "shaky" would be that motion.
So, I cleaned out my apartment.
I sit here now, feeling my energy bleed out of me with these words, feeling no motivation to do anything, including wallow in my own crapulence. I'm feeling torn and paralyzed. I'm feeling dread of something that I can't identify except to call it a fear of regret, and a fear that I will choose wrong in choosing my regrets, and a fear that I will always feel like this.
I sit here knowing that these fears, these powerful conflicting emotions, these frustrations, fill me with self-loathing. They bleed me of my energy.
I'm sick of it. Hating myself has taken too much of my life in the same way that traffic takes too much of your life. Just wasted time doing nothing and going nowhere fast, and unable to do anything else.
I clean out my apartment because, in some silly, magical thinking way, I am trying to find that thing that represents all of these conflicts, all of these dreads, all of these drains on my energy. I want to find it and throw it out.
I fear, too, that, if this thing were an actual item, I would end up like I will with my grandmother's possessions: unable to throw it out because of their connection to people that I do or did care about deeply, and yet unable to keep them because they are too ugly.
I stopped cleaning out because I figured out why I'm cleaning. Now what? How does a person radically change their own reality? Radically change it and believe it?