Sunday, October 19, 2008

MESS, Part 2

Still contemplating "A Perfect Mess." This is the most inspiring thing I have read since Lao Tzu.

The organization industry is like the diet industry: a bunch of self-styled professionals ready and waiting to charge us to get our homes or bodies in the same shape as portrayed in magazines. They prey on the guilt we suffer when viewing the images of beautiful rooms, svelte bodies, the promise of perfection and happiness and --more than anything -- the ideal images that we would like to project to other people.

It's just self-help for people who really don't need help, they have just been convinced they do. That guilt thing. That desire thing. That fear thing. That American thing.

Now, there are some truly pathological messes--cases of people being killed when stacks of old newspapers fall on them, the organizational equivalent of 650-pound people who can't leave their home without the help of a crane -- they do need helping hands and counseling. And now that I think of it, our preoccupations with anorexia and OCD seem like parallel pathological overboard reactions to the self-help and perfection movements.

I have often thought that it would be nice to have a drug that would make me a little more OCD (without any of the annoying physical, mental and legal side effects of cocaine or meth), the mirror of the pharmaceutical that stops people from washing their hands 120 times a day, something that would push me to make my bed and clean the litter box every time the cats use it. But now, after reading this book, I realize I'm okay. (The Perfect Mess authors observe that making the bed every morning is something akin to tying your shoes after you take them off.) Not that I didn't know I was okay all along, but I did buy the book for some reason. But now I'm going to make an effort to love my mess. (Still, it bothers me that I can't discard those size eight tweed suits in my closet...and I will probably file the other two organization manuals, useless and unread, right back in the pile with "A Perfect Mess.") So no zen existence for me. Yet.

I realize too, that for many of us, our messes develop because we no longer have attics and basements, the normal repositories of junk and, upon excavation by the next generation, treasures. eBAY is our communal attic. In my little storage-challenged condo, you might be hard-pressed to tell whether we are moving in or moving out. In fact we are going nowhere, having paid off the mortgage and looking forward to retirement, possibly funded by a sell-off of all the crap we have accumulated. And who would pay money for all these collected camels and Chinese objets d'art and costume jewelry and old computers and complete runs of magazines like Fate and T'ai Chi and Allure and Life? Well, I did.

The Life magazines, truth be told, were rescued from an old public library weeding and resided for a long time at the in-laws'. "But we threw those out once already," they complained. It's a lot of fun to get a miscellaneous box, say July-Dec 1956, and just read them, a kind of history lesson. More fun than looking at them on CD, the solution, as yet untapped, for my now-discarded 15 years' of New Yorkers. For Life, it's not so easy though, because they are in our commercial attic, a storage locker about 8 miles away. That means going to get them, lugging them up and down to our 10th floor appartment, and taking them back. Just like a library without overdue notices. And I am loosening my grip on the fashion and decor magazines, a certain effect of my Taoist training over the past two years. All these magazines accumulate because things come upstairs in little bits almost on their own--and between us, we must have 20 magazine subscriptions--but it takes a real effort to get them back down to the dumpster.

I'm sure someone out there would love to see pictures of my messes, and that may come in time. But right now, just go look at your own. I just know you have some somewhere! I think , like those tours you can go on to visit people's beautiful homes, we should have tours of other people's closets. And now I see a retirement gig for myself: Closet Inspector. There are people who would pay good money!

Saturday, October 18, 2008


Beginning to feel normalish after too much travel...China...Palm Springs (CA). The thoughts and observations have been overwhelming me, my mind is a mess.

So today I picked up a book, A Perfect Mess, lurking among the piles of tomes to read. I am indeed a compulsive Amazon one-clicker with a wish-list, but there are also a couple of book clubs I "belong" to and I like to send off the order in the mail and then forget about it. Then maybe six weeks later, these books I don't remember ordering arrive like little surprise presents to myself. Very disorderly. Three of these recent arrivals have to do with the concept of getting is about planning and features lots of acronyms and mnemonics and bullet points, one is about shedding (what was I thinking, ordering more books?) and tackles the emotions one has about those old really nice clothes you have in the closet that don't fit. But the best one, A Perfect Mess, is about "why bother?" There is a whole INDUSTRY of people helping other people clear their closets, manage their space (to say nothing of their time) and making money off the tremendous ambivalence that modern Americans have about materialism. Why? Turns out order can be counter-productive and the time you spend creating it may be a waste. And really, who cares. In my case, I don't entertain, I know where everything is (or what it is under) and I know there is no closet inspector.

Once when I was a little messy girl and sloppily stashed and crammed everything in my closet, my mother in exasperation persuaded a nice man from our church to pose as the closet inspector. We actually had closet inspections. Consequently, I now keep pretty orderly closets and drawers, but the open space is a problem. I need more. It is true what Stephen Wright said:" You can't have everything...where would you put it?" But again, who cares?

These thoughts come to me at a strange time, after having recently traveled with a Buddhist monk to a Taoist place, where material stuff was not an issue. The monk had NOTHING except a bag of robes and some malas. (But it should be pointed out that his existence depended on the benevolence and largesse of people who would provide him food and shelter just because he was a monk.) He was not burdened with stuff -- I thought I had packed lightly, but he shamed me.

The authors of A Perfect Mess point out that it is in our mess and display of accumulated stuff that our personalities can be detected. It would make sense that the monk would have no stuff: he also has no ego (or at least he's trying to clean that out of his being).

I think my mess and my ego are going to be with me for a long time.

Thursday, October 09, 2008


Any Taoist watching the stock market must just be bemused. Why do you think they call it the "Dow?" I was just hoping for balance and stability in my retirement.

Monday, October 06, 2008


Catching up on my back New Yorkers I find that David Foster Wallace, whose work I have read there, and in Harper's, hanged himself in September.  Young (46) major literary author. Apparently suffered from depression for a long time.  So I went web browsing and came across a commencement address he gave at Kenyon College in 2005 that is really worth reading.  It saddens me that the person who said these things has taken his own life (but it may be predicted there in the text). I may have to read "Infinite Jest," his 1996 novel. (It's time I read something that isn't about China.)  According to some literary analysis,  the story takes place in 2008. ("The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment.")  Have any of my two readers experience with DFW?