Friday, December 30, 2011

Deal With it Day

It seldom happens, but yesterday I reached my chaos tolerance threshold.

Not to worry, I didn't go postal or anything, but I did do something almost as unheard of...

I cleaned.

Actually, more than cleaning, I picked things up, threw things away, and dealt with the numerous piles of crap that I've been avoiding for the past few months. 
And I have to say... it feels absolutely AMAZING to get rid of the many anvils that have been perched over my head waiting to fall.

Seriously... the dishes are done, the litter boxes are clean, the carpet is vacuumed, the clogged drain is un-clogged, the heaps of dirty laundry have been washed and put away, the pile of debris on my desk is gone, the "deal with it pile" has been dealt with... I even made the dreaded OBGYN Pap appointment (Oh, the joy...)  And while I haven't achieved "neat and tidy" by any stretch of the imagination, at least I'm out of the fire hazard category!

It feels so wonderful, in fact, that I'm left to wonder why I am not able to keep things in a relatively chaos-free state all the time. Generally, at this point, I would start making vows to never let it get out of control again... but you know, I think I'm getting old enough to recognize that promises simply don't work in this department.

Because... already the gobs of cat fur are gathering on the carpet... and there are new dishes waiting to be washed, and the nylon stocking lint trap burst on the last load of laundry meaning that the drain will need to be snaked again soon, the litter boxes are gathering new "tootsie rolls" as we speak, and new emails are arriving by the moment, and... well, you know... life is a transient state and nothing ever stays done for long!

But I do think that I learned a few things during my "deal with it day" so I figured I'd share my brilliant insights.

Insight number one: 
If you want things to get done, you must set aside time to do them.

OK. Now, I realize that this fits into the category of the excruciatingly obvious, but for some reason it's a lesson that, despite my forty-some-odd years on this planet, I have yet to learn. I seem to carry around the ridiculous notion that if I were just a "better person," things like cleaning, and picking up etc would just somehow magically do themselves.

I'm sure some of this comes from my childhood. I was raised by a single working mother, and most of my friends had stay at home moms... but somehow it never clicked that the only reason their houses were neat and tidy while ours was a mess, was because they had mothers who devoted many hours a week to cleaning and tidying, while I did not. I guess I always just assumed it was genetic.

So yesterday, I decided to devote the entire day to dealing with shit - no television, no internet, no distractions of any kind. You know, it's really rather amazing what you can accomplish once you accept the idea that you're gonna have to devote some time and energy to the process.

The other thing I did was to refuse to hurry. Generally, when I'm tackling something unpleasant, I just want it to be over with as soon as possible. So the entire time I'm doing it I'm pushing myself to move faster. When I didn't let myself do that yesterday, I discovered that the tasks aren't nearly as onerous as the hurrying is.

Insight number two:
Unpleasant tasks don't become any less loathsome when you avoid them... 
in fact, they generally become worse because not only do you have the task itself to deal with, you've got all of the wasted mental energy tied up in avoiding it.

I think I should have this one tattooed to my forehead... well, actually, I'd need to come up with more concise wording before that would work, but you know what I mean.

Really, seriously, though... the doing of the thing is never as bad as the dreading it was. You know, it's the old If you think the worst and get the worst you suffer twice, but if you think the best and get the worst you only suffer once.

Anyhow, during my deal with it day, I didn't let myself weasel out of all of those things that I generally like to avoid. And really, snaking the drain and committing to the OBGYN weren't nearly as bad as the knot in my stomach that was caused by avoiding them.

Insight number three: 
Clutter is really just postponed decisions.

OK, to be fair, this is not really my own insight, it's one I got from the television show, Neat, which I used to watch on HGTV back when I still had cable. Because, you know, it's sooooo much more fun to lay on the couch and look at other people's messy houses than it is to deal with your own! Anyhow, the host of Neat is a woman named Hellen Buttigieg, a professional organizer and life coach, who I found to be just brimming with insightful revelations regarding the psychology of clutter, and this was one of the things she said over and over.

Seriously though... I think that 99% of the crap that gathers in my house, simply does so because I can't make a decision about what to do with it. Like... Oy, I really have no interest in this book my brother sent me for Christmas, but it would be rude and a hassle to send it back... but I can't decide, so there it sits, along with the box and packaging... And then there's the laundry... let's see, I wore it for three hours, so it's technically not clean, but it doesn't smell bad and isn't visibly dirty... but should I really put it back in the closet once it's been worn?

AAAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!! Just make a decision already!!!

But you know, most of the decisions that I avoid like the plague, simply don't matter that much. And as the song goes: If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice.

Insight number four: 
Perfectionism will get you nowhere.

Back when I still had a "real job" I had the most fabulous and wonderful assistant ever. We worked together for over 10 years, and that girl knew me WAAAAAY too well. One day we were chatting about housework and I remarked that I hated vacuuming more than any other task.

She was incredulous, so I explained that it really wasn't vacuuming per se that I hated, but rather the three hours that it took to do the entire house. Once again, she was incredulous. So we chatted a bit more on the subject and then she said "Oh, I see what your problem is. You're suffering from vacuum perfection syndrome. Perhaps you need different levels of vacuuming... you know... just do the visible areas every week and save the moving the furniture part for spring cleaning."

Hmmmm... did I mention she was brilliant? I mean she was totally right, and the older I get, the more I realize that all of my perfectionistic tendencies are really just another form of procrastination.

I'm not sure I completely understand the psychology behind this one, but it's certainly true that I can set off to clean the bathroom and 6 hours later I'm still scrubbing the same tiny section of grout. Clearly, in the broad scheme of things, it makes more sense to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good.

So yesterday, I refused to let myself descend into perfectionism. And the results were totally amazing! I actually got the vacuuming done in 20 minutes! Granted, I didn't get behind the litter boxes, or under the coffee tables, or behind the bookshelf, but it feels WAY better than it did before, and I can always do the nitty gritty some other time.

And the other thing I did was to refuse to beat myself up for being a slob in the first place. I think this goes along with the "genetic flaw" theory of slovenliness, but really, cleaning is so much more pleasant when you're not standing behind yourself with a whip the entire time.

Insight number five: 
Clean house or dirty, you're still the same stupid person.

So as I dealt with shit yesterday, I noticed a very interesting issue repeating itself over and over. I'd pick up all of the dirty laundry... except for two pairs of socks that I just couldn't bring myself to deal with. I did all of the dishes, except for one casserole dish that I just had to let sit in the sink and soak. I winnowed the "deal with it" pile down to two little insignificant things, but then couldn't quite manage to tackle those last tasks.

Hmmmmm...  what is this, some sort of completion anxiety?

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that deep down, some part of me has a fear of not being a slob. I think it's similar to the fear I had about losing weight, or quitting my job or any of the other myriad of changes I've undertaken. I mean, these are things that I REALLY wanted, but what I didn't want to do was to face the fact that there was something I was getting out of the status quo. I mean, I think on some level there can be something really comfortable about being stuck in whatever it is that you're used to being stuck in.

I guess having something that's "wrong" in my life serves a purpose. It allows me to blame all of my "yucky" emotions on the thing that's "wrong," rather than having to come face to face with the raw feelings.

I mean, shit... I lost 40 pounds, and have kept it off for 10+ years now... and while that's great, it didn't actually solve all of my problems. And I saved my money, adopted a frugal lifestyle so now I don't have to work... but surprisingly enough, that didn't mean that I suddenly morphed into a carefree being filled with nothing but bliss and happiness.

I guess, perhaps it's the same with the whole neat and tidy thing. I mean, I made myself pick up those last pairs of socks, and I washed the last casserole dish, and finished those last two things in the "deal with it" pile. And it feels great... but there's also a bit of a let down. I haven't somehow altered the essential core of my being and become one of those "perfect people" that I always imagined my childhood friends to be.

Perhaps this is what happens to people who win the lottery. I've heard over and over stories about somebody who strikes it rich, and then ends up more miserable than they were before. But I guess the truth is that we are not the sum total of our money, or our accomplishments, or our "neat and tidiness." We simply are who we are, and I think learning to accept that is the real trick.

I do think I'll try to have "deal with it day" a tad bit more often though!

Monday, December 26, 2011

Dead Relatives - So Much More Fun than the Living Variety

So the Winter Solstice gathering at my parents' house turned out to be much less onerous than I had feared. We got about a foot of snow on the day it was originally scheduled, so the big shindig got cancelled, and I ended up just having dinner with my folks the next day.

This meant that they were significantly less wound up than they generally are when orchestrating a big to-do, so much of the "weird" didn't materialize. Woo Hoo!

Anyhow, they've been on a de-cluttering kick of late, and one of the things they wanted to get rid of were all of my grandmother's old photo albums. I eagerly agreed to take them, and we spent most of the evening looking at old photos with my dad telling old family stories and recollections. It was actually great!

My grandmother was the daughter of Italian immigrants, and since she was the only grandparent that I really knew, my sense of family history is very much tied up with her. So despite my strawberry blonde hair and fish-belly white complexion, I've always sort of considered myself to be Italian.

Anyhow, check out these amazing pictures. (You can click on any of them to see bigger resolution if you're so inclined.)

This (we believe) is my great-grandparents Maria & Giovanni on their wedding day. They are the couple on the left, and we're guessing that the couple on the right are her parents.

What I totally love are the expressions on their faces. Giovanni has a sort of shell shocked look of OMG what the hell did I just get myself into, and Maria looks thoroughly pissed off. It's sort of hard to blame her though. She's 15 years old, has just been uprooted from the only home she's ever known, spent several months traveling half way around the world, to be married off to some guy she's never met before. Sort of puts the glorification of the past (that I can't help but slip into from time to time) into perspective, don't it?

Then 10-15 years later we have the Christening of one of my Grandmother's younger siblings.

I admit it sort of fills my brain with a bit of cognitive dissonance to see this photo. According to family lore, Maria had a terrible temper, and I grew up hearing stories of how she'd descend into fits of rage and throw butcher knives at her children and grandchildren (my father included). Hard to square that with the peaceful faces pictured here.

Anyhow, Grandma grew up in Leadville, a mining town with quite a colorful history, and her albums are full of pictures of daily life.

The family home...

Road trip...

Horsing around with friends (Grandma is on the right)...

Being silly in front of the camera...

Going skiing...

Dates with boys... Grandma's on the right, her younger sister on the left.

I'm not sure why these photos are so compelling to me. I guess I tend to attribute a certain seriousness to the past that is strikingly absent in Grandma's pictures. I mean, change the clothes, the hair styles etc. and these look pretty much like any pictures you'd see today on Facebook.  

As a child, my father would always talk about how poor his family was, but somehow, I don't see poverty when I look at these pictures. I mostly just see people living what look to me like fairly normal, happy lives.

I suppose everybody puts on a good face for the camera, but I can't help but think that wealth and happiness are not necessarily evenly correlated.

Anyhow, in all these photos, there was one that made me laugh out loud. These are the parents of my grandmother's second husband... so I guess that makes them my dad's step-grandparents.

I couldn't help but think of Grant Wood's famous American Gothic painting...
Oh my... perhaps there is some "traditional American" in my family history after all!

I guess when it comes right down to it, people are just people... whatever the time, place or circumstance.  Somehow I think we'd all be a lot better off if we remembered that fact more often.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Christmas Crazy Flower is Blooming!!!

Well, it's almost Christmas, and let me tell you, I'm certainly experiencing my share of Holiday Oy!

I'm never quite sure what form the family crazy monster will take from year to year, so it's always an adventure. And for reasons that aren't entirely clear to me, it always seems to rear its ugly head around the holidays.

This year's theme seems to be, "Poor Cat... she must be broke and suffering." I've been feeling it coming on for a while now, and recent events seem to confirm my suspicion. 

First there was the door. The storm door on the side of my house got damaged in the summer hailstorm, and since the "real" door in that location was a total piece of crap (hollow core door with a big window that gets so cold in the winter it feels like you're covering the opening with a blanket)... anyhow, I decided that since I had to have the storm door replaced, I'd bite the bullet, upgrade to a security storm door and  have the real door replaced with an energy star door.

Quite an improvement, don't you think?

BUT... I made the terrible mistake of telling my dad & step-mom about my plans. And pretty soon my father is just totally going nuts about it. He somehow decides that this door must be replaced IMMEDIATELY,if not sooner, because it isn't safe. (Dude... I've lived here for 15 years now... and it's no less "safe" now than at any other moment of my residency here.) But he's obsessed. And pretty soon he's calling several times a week wanting to know if I've had it done yet, and offering to take charge of the project, and pay for it all, and AAAAARRRGGGHHH!!! Just what I need is my crazy parents in the middle of some remodeling project.

Anyhow, right about then I decided to get really "busy" and unavailable. I even went so far as to make up a fictitious new database client who was "monopolizing my time" and "paying me tons of money" to get them off my back. Seriously, it's really the only line of defense I have when the crazy flower starts to bloom.

And I thought it was working until...

My brother calls me up and asks if I want to go in with him on buying a "big screen" HD television as a gift for my Mother. I was totally delighted by the offer because it meant all I had to do was write a check and I was off the proverbial Christmas hook.

So I left it up to him to do the shopping, and told him to let me know how much I owed him. Well... I get an email the other day with the price tag... $50. OK... Seriously?!? I wrote him back asking if he left off a zero, but he insists he got a great deal. OK fine... if he wants to pay for the gift and give me credit, well, I suppose there are worse things... but I'm starting to sense a trend here... feels sort of like impending doom...

Then comes the check from my mother. She always sends a few hundred bucks at Christmas... guilt money I call it. But this year, she sends me $1500!?!?

And Friday I'm going to my Dad's for "Winter Solstice Dinner" - don't even get me started on that family tradition... move all the Christmas BS a few days earlier and call yourself a rebel! Anyhow, I'm really dreading it... because gawd knows what sort of crazy shit is brewing in their little heads.

Don't get me wrong, it's not like I exactly mind being given money... it's just the whole dynamic that makes me crazy. It's sort of the role they like to put me in... I'm the pathetic failure who is in constant need of "help." I've tried to explain that I have enough money to live comfortably for 10-15 years without bringing in another cent... but all they see is a girl without a job.

And it's not like I don't know what's really going on here. It's just SOOOO much easier for them to play "what's wrong with Cat" than it is for them to deal with any of their own personal shit (which is voluminous, trust me.)

At least this time all they want (so far) is to give me money.

Because there was the time they decided that I must be depressed and in need of medication, so they had to stage an intervention... seriously, they were ready to haul me off to the state mental hospital...

Then there was the time they started calling all of my friends wanting to know what was wrong with me, and why I wasn't attending all of their family gatherings...

Or the time they decided I must have an eating disorder because I refused to eat things that I was allergic to (all the more amusing, because for many years of my youth when I actually DID have an eating disorder, nobody ever noticed a thing.)


OK... deep breath. I just have to keep telling myself that it will be over soon....

"It will be over soon..."

"It will be over soon..."

"It will be over soon..."

Gawd, how I hate Christmas... let me count the ways...

Or maybe this way...

Or this way...

Or, at the risk of offending the Christians, this way...

It sort of makes me feel like a total Grinch, but seriously, dudes? Am I the only person who just grits their teeth and just tries to survive this time of year? 

Does anybody else out there have a family who just doesn't "get it" about their lifestyle? Am I the only one who just counts the days until it's all over?

Just wondering...