Santa Monica, California, USA
Mom was right. You’ve got to clean up your own room.
About a year ago, I went through an excruciatingly painful surgery to remove the last of my cancer-prone large intestine. Being more concerned with just getting through the day than handling routine household maintenance, my “pit,” the room where I work, went completely to hell. Stuff all over the place.
I have always been the sort of backyard-garage mechanic who knows by memory exactly where a given tool lies on his cluttered bench, though no one else would have a clue.
This is not exactly uncommon among writers. Some may prefer a meticulous work place, but the most common images of writer’s writing rooms show stacks of stuff, books, tchotchkes, and clutter. But it’s only clutter and disorganization to someone else, right up until it becomes overwhelming and stops a writer, or a mechanic for that matter, dead in his or her tracks.
I’ve had to deal with severe, endogenous depression -- probably why I write a lot of humor -- all of my life. Post surgery, immobile for a while, I became more depressed than usual. Not because of the pain, or even as the aftermath of facing likely death. Once again I came through with somewhat mixed results. Facing death doesn’t exactly grow old, but it becomes less intimidating with practice.
What hurt me, depressed me, was my inability to help my wife Deb. She’s the one with major illness and unable to help herself. I’m just the chopped up nut case in the family. She’s the one with the joie de vivre, but bed bound, nonetheless. We have help, but I hate it when I can’t pull my weight.
Depressed by being depressed, and in an act of childishness, I decided to get off all my prescription medications to see if that would help cheer me up. My pain level was down to tolerable, so I tolerated it. The childish, or, more accurately, stupid part, was giving up the prescription meds that had been keeping me reasonably functional, Zoloft, Xanax, and my beloved sleep-permitting Valium.
Yeah, I distinctly remember reading the prescription fine print, back when I could read the fine print, which suggested that if one quits this stuff or similar after 30 years, it’s gonna hurt. I distinctly do NOT remember reading a big, red, bold faced warning that said, “This means you, too, Stupid!” though it is probably in there somewhere.
I didn’t go any crazier than I usually am, but I did become damned near inert, and my pit, my room, went to hell.
My wife came to the rescue. “Take your (common expletive deleted) drugs and knock this (somewhat more colorful string of expletives deleted) off! Ok, so it was a little more than a gentle nudge.
Well, it takes a little while for brain maintainers to kick back in, so it’s not like I felt better the next day. Or week. Or month. But one day, I looked at my pit and said, “Cripes, this pit is a PIT!”
So I immediately set about searching for someone else who would be willing to clean it up. Couldn’t find a soul. Probably for a reason.
The reason was, Mom was right. “You’ve got to clean up your own room.” Daunting task though it seemed, there really wasn’t any way around it. No one was going to do it for me.
I hit upon a less than novel solution. I bought a box of those big black garbage bags with red tie strings, and threw most of the crap that I hadn’t looked at in a year and wasn’t likely to look at again in this lifetime.
Someone with no interest in my junk could probably have done this in three or four hours. I, of course, had to consider every piece of drek in hand before whacking myself on the side of my head and chucking it, so it took three days or ruthless recycling to do one room. Plus another day to organize the junque that I will only part with on my last, very much for real, death cot.
Now, there is a point to this. Somewhere in the process, I realized that it might be useful to clean up all the crap in my brain: the grudges, the doubts, the fears, the could have been’s and the should have been’s. I have always espoused living in the NOW, but certainly hadn’t been practicing it lately.
Letting go of mental clutter is not much different, or easier, or more pleasant, than bagging up physical clutter. It doesn’t take courage. Just as an old stack of National Geographic or box of junk mail isn’t going to bite you when you throw it out, cleaning up one’s mind is not likely to result in physical damage. Both acts require intention, though, and a willingness to LET STUFF GO.
The worst that can happen is that one ends up with a clean room. The best… Well, here’s what happened for me. I started paying true attention to Deb again, giving care with intentionality. And I started writing again. And writing is what I do when I am being “me” cleaned up and focused.
Thanks, Ma, though I apologize for taking so long to get it.
Best to all, Jimbeaux