The nagging realization that I was hiding behind personal spiritual cleanliness and the superficial neatness of our home started late in the afternoon of 10 August 2011. It happened right after I clicked ‘post’ on a facebook status which declared: “10th of Av (after the 9th of Av Fast): 1. clean body and soul; 2. clean house (thanks to our housekeeper); 3. clean car.” As the status appeared on my facebook profile I thought I heard strange creaking sounds coming from the bedroom.
I walked into the bedroom to check out the source of the noise. The closet, (‘Benedict Arnold’ of the bunch, as it had been partially cleaned and organized the week before), the drawers (of the dresser, of the nightstands and of the desk), the deceptively neat piles of paper on the dresser, nightstand and desk, along with the shamefully bulging shelves of the bookcase burst forth in boisterous and disorderly laughter as in perky sing-song unison they rang out with: “We double dog dare you to proclaim us clean!”
What!? I am a Chicago girl, nobody (not even myself in vivid imagination mode) double-dog dares me and wins. I am so getting behind this until its done (tomorrow)! Then I took a very long and serious look at the condition of the bedroom and saw that the room needed more than a surface “spit shine” cleaning, it was time to find my ‘killer urge to purge’ and use it to clean up the disheveled, disorganized bedroom (tomorrow)! I slept poorly that night knowing that ‘tomorrow’ was busy releasing itself from its parenthetic bond and preparing to join the rest of the sentence in the morning redressed as a brilliantly liberated ‘today’!
The next morning as I sat drinking my morning cuppa’ at my desk successfully ignoring the rest of the bedroom and calmly reading through a computer file, Jacques Derrida’s statements about “The endless play of signification” winked up at me. In my mind’s ear I heard my mother’s lilting laugh and then her voice: “Enough playing with the established meaning of words and sentences. M’ija, (colloquial, affectionate Spanish: ‘my daughter’), you are cockin’ around! Here are two sentences for you: ‘Clean your room! I promise you’ll feel better when you are done.’ Now M’ija, don’t go getting all like that. This isn’t about working on what the sentences mean. Don’t go getting all bogged down in the memory of the 12 year old you rebelling against my saying those sentences. M’ija, its postmodern reality time, go on then, just get to work on your room. You know you want to…cause otherwise I wouldn’t be here talking to you like this!”
Ok, the imaginary ‘double dog dare’ from the room itself AND my mother’s voice were the powerful personal ‘round2it!’ I’d been looking for. I began working. I pretended I was packing to move and worked off my classic: “make three piles plus one” model.
My three piles are:
1.“Give it away immediately”
2. “If I don’t wear this before the end of this season it goes” and
3. “Uuuuu! I love this and wear it all the time”
Plus one: “If it isn’t a prom dress or my wedding dress despite it having such wonderful memories attached to it, I have got to find a way to let it go!”
The three piles allow me to use cold calculated logic in ‘killer purge’ decision making. Plus one is the loving emotional refuge/refuse “come on girl, you can do it, really let it go” pile.
The closet and dresser drawers went fast, closet was sort of half done from the week before. So easily, the happy recognition that I’ve lost 10 kilo (22 pounds) in the past year and half – I am NEVER going to wear my ‘fat clothes’ again – gave me a big assist with getting the first pile to the “Oh! it is toppling over better take a break to get it folded and bagged for giving it away” point. I worked steadily (with minimum time spent playing ‘Scramble’ and/or ‘Mahjong’ on the computer) by nightfall, I was done! Four huge trash bags of clothes – all clean, neatly folded and divided according to seasons – ready to move forward into someone else’s life.
The next morning I drove those bags along with four more my children had added (two each from their own rooms – with no prompting from the busy me – the purging bug had also bitten them) to the Givat Shaul Recycling Center where the ‘recycling guy’ was busy sorting through other bags of clothing getting them ready for redistribution to needy folks throughout Jerusalem. As we pulled the eight bags out of the trunk and back seat of the car he smiled and in Hebrew said: “I remember you from last year, yours are the only bags that come in fully sorted and ready to move out. Whatcha bring me? men’s? women’s? children’s?” As we shifted the bags to his sorted pile I replied: “Middle-aged conservative mom, young adult-female and young adult-male – good clean clothes ready for use. Gotta run, I’ll see you in the late fall, I’m pretty sure I’ll have more then.”
Once back home I looked at the room again, Ugh! It’s still clogged in here, more work is required. Just as I was about to carry the laptop out into our neat and serene living room a pile of paper cascaded off the dresser top and spilled itself onto the floor. Oh greatest of frustrations! How did all this paper get here? I put down the computer and began working. Soon I realized that if I tried to do it all at once I would become discouraged and give up. That’s when I decided to turn the “paper purge” into a “time bound scheduled into my day regular activity” until it is done. I pushed the bedroom furniture out of the way to make room for a new model in pile making “paper by category”.
Every day for a week I worked some sifting through paper. Old paid utility bills, receipts, check stubs, credit card receipts, car insurance papers, bank statements, sweaty palms thirstily drinking in red ink from old airplane tickets. Enough! I quit for today. Movie tickets, theatre tickets. Oh! The 50th Anniversary of The West Side Story Tour at the Tel Aviv Opera sure was fun tickets. Sweet, first Red Sea Jazz Festival with Jay program. Uuuu! navigational map of delivering the boat after the Mackinac Race in ‘05 with JT and his sailing buddies; the kids and me in the role of “We’re JT’s ‘summer rental’ family”. Times up go do something else. Yay! Photograph of Ruggie and her girls with us at ‘Tavern On the Green’ before attending the traditional ‘End of Summer in the States Broadway Musical’. What did we see that year? Oh yeah, ‘Avenue Q’! My 50th birthday card from mom, sure Meeteeta, of course I promise to stay healthy. Right, now I am tired of this paper sorting see you tomorrow. Old calendars, stage bills, more photographs, Oh too funny here’s the 1979 ‘Seasons Greeting’ card that Gwen, Allison, Marta and I had made up during Junior Year at school! Notes and letters from Helen, (you were the absolute best mother-in-law!) No I am not finished no ‘scramble’ till I’m done. Radio playing “Life oh Life!” Sealed unlabeled envelope opened 10 photographs: the only photographs of the four of us together – just for the nine months after my son was born and before my husband was murdered in a terrorist attack. Tears rolling down my cheeks, Oh G-d, Oh G-d! Why did I start on ‘this’ drawer? Sweet smiling daughter cradled against her father’s chest on one of his arms, baby boy’s toothless smile, David’s other arm around my pudgy post pregnancy waist. Steady old girl, almost 20 years gone by, you raised the children well. Break! Go dance it out in the living room with Melissa Etheridge singing “I Take You With Me”. Tearful sunset on the balcony for what was and the present(s) that it brought. Come on, pull yourself together, here’s a laugh: Drawers and all the surface tops are done! Neat and tidy! Feeling sort of giddy OCD today! Final push through to clean and organize the book shelves. Three trash bags of paper carried to recycling bin downstairs! Yes! Done! This room is clean!
Facebook status for 17 August 2011: “Three days of intense work (carried out over a two week period) = 11 drawers, 2 nightstand tops, 1 dresser top, 1 desk top, 1 bookcase AND the clothes closet purged of all that ‘clogging junk’!! Yay!! You bet I am happy!”
Written on my heart status for the same day: “Yep, Meeteeta, my room’s clean, you were right, I feel better, new energy flowing; getting ready to think about the Hebrew month of Elul, spiritual healing, forgiveness, and fall renewal towards Rosh HaShanah and Yom Kippur. Room looks good, right? I love you and me too! Goodnight!”