Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Inundated With Stuff

I am in the middle of analysis paralysis, unable to move, there are so many directions in need of my attention. Where to begin, where to spend the energy, where can I go to hide where no one will find me?

More on that later.

In the meanwhile, before posting the next chapter of my book for your perusal, I'm posting this piece from October 1999, which I just reread and found sweet and full of memories and nice justification for all this "stuff" I am currently buried in. Enjoy.

october 1999

The Stuff Of Life

Sometimes you find out that you really do have to deal with your shit. In my case, tons of it. I moved my office last week. Now admittedly, I’m not a multinational corporation, so it shouldn’t have been that big a deal. All I do at my desk is pay bills, write some articles, send some emails, and get the heck out of the way when the kids want to play computer games. Yet the project seemed as complicated as organizing a wagon train to Colorado.

It started, as all my projects do, as an avoidance tactic. Now that I have children who actually go to school for at least part of every day, theoretically giving me up to two marvelous hours a day without a captive audience, I am facing the pressure. And while my wife isn’t expecting me to be producing masses of literary efforts or suddenly develop the ability to keep a spotless house (there’s a laugh), there is some expectation, by myself at least, that I should be able to do more.

So instead, I am making work for myself elsewhere. Some extra help at the preschool. A few errands around town. A vow to rid ourselves of material possessions (I realized this summer that if we just removed one third of our belongings, we’d have scads of room). And a sudden decision that it’s time for our children to have separate rooms, even if it means giving up my office to do so.

Of course complicating one’s life is not a unique tactic for avoidance. Many a baby is born because someone thought it would be a good distraction for a decade or so, thus alleviating the pressure to a) write that great American novel, b) find a real job or c) deal with one’s shit. See above.

Or maybe that’s just me.

And these avoidance tactics tend to take on a life of their own, far beyond what we expected when we thought of them. So what starts as a doable project often becomes frankly monolithic. For instance the office thing.

Because I’m not merely moving my stuff and vacating a room. I’m setting up a new “space” for myself elsewhere, creating a “space” for our daughter, and rearranging the “space” of our son so that he can get the most out of his newfound solitude. All of which means I’m moving a lot of stuff around in space (Oh to be Barbara Eden or Elizabeth Montgomery right now!)

Thus my vow of depletion is renewed. Though when faced with it, it’s awe inspiring, as well as awful, this stuff of life. I want to pare down, to “simplify my life”, and yet here are all these great memories. Heck, it is the great American novel, no editing required. It’s our dreams, our best selves, our worst selves, this paraphernalia gathering dust, being used, taking up space. Tripping me as I make my way to the bathroom at night. It’s our history- the garage sale starts to our life together, the hand-me-downs from both sides of the family that we couldn’t have done without. It’s our best intentions- the watercolors never used, the self-help manuals, the healthy snacks uneaten in the fridge. It’s our passions, sometimes staying, sometimes fleeting. Exercise equipment, garage sale sleeping bags, frames to fill with pictures not yet taken.

And the kids stuff, oy. It’s like an archeological site, digging through their stuff. Remember when they were into trains? Or the dinosaur phase when you had to read scientific texts for hours a day and could probably present a slide show on the late Cretaceous? And how old were they when they first tried a 500-piece puzzle, and could finish it?

But then, if we didn’t want to be inundated, we should never have had children. Had we been sensible lesbians we’d have adopted a couple of dogs instead and lavished them with our attention and had money for vacations. And though I know dog owners can attain their share of doggy accoutrements, it’s nothing compared to the equipment a child can require.

Or merely inspire. Let’s face it, most of the stuff they don’t need, we want it. At least us Boomers. We can even buy stuff from our childhood on E-Bay if we want to, and keep it for ourselves. And even if one is sensible and frugal, they grow up and out of things at an alarming rate. And faster with every year.

Which has its uses I suppose. Pretty soon they’ll be setting up my computer system for me, telling me my old one is obsolete (and probably me as well) and be invaluable in the moving of furniture. They will wonder where all this stuff came from, and why we keep it all and I can become, at that time in life, extremely stubborn and immovable, and tell them it is my life’s work. And don’t they dare touch a thing unless they intend to keep it for themselves, and add it to their life stories. And then they can trip over it in the dark, instead of me.

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