Introspection isn’t for everyone. Epiphanies and eye-opening insights are often unpleasant, particularly when they’re foisted on us unbidden. Mine happened in a bookstore when all I wanted was a book, an escape from winter’s grim reality.
I’d thought about visiting a travel agency — not to travel, but for dreamy brochures of tropical beaches and glorious sunsets. Seemed too cruel, so I surrendered to the temptations of Barnes & Noble instead, where I happily wandered the aisles and shelves and stacks of books. You see, browsing bookstores is my panacea; I enter a blissful state where reality dissolves.
When I eventually snapped out of the trance, my arms were loaded with New Yorkers and Wireds, a Glamour, Fast Company, Sports Illustrateds — a nicely eclectic assortment — and I wondered why I had so many. In a flash, the scales fell from my eyes and a veil was lifted. ‘Oh crap, I’m straightening the magazines. Why am I straightening the magazines? And why am I channeling Adrian Monk?’ Until that instant of clarity, I’d considered myself sane.
Self-awakenings are bound to happen, I suppose, but they’re startling when you aren’t prepared. And I wasn’t, it was a blow. Tidying the magazines was bad enough, but I’d reorganized the greeting cards first. Clearly, I’d scooted over the edge of normalcy into the murky terrain of mental disorder. Everything I knew, everything I was, went topsy-turvy and I became a stranger to myself.
How, I wondered, could I not notice such eccentric behavior? The signs were right there, staring me in the face. But, in my defense, who pays attention? Neatness doesn’t raise red flags or set off alarms until it mushrooms from quirky to crippling. By then, uh-oh.
This is a flourishing neurosis, this straightening of things. Things that are not mine. Things whose order and uniformity shouldn’t concern me, but does nevertheless. I straighten t-shirts at the Gap. I re-alphabetize books at the library. I align pictures in doctor’s examining rooms. I tidy up at the laundromat, stowing laundry carts and retrieving dryer sheets. People don’t grasp how messy the world is until they’re compulsive.
Home could be the centerfold in Pathological Quarterly. My closet is arranged by color, according to category and subsets; clothing meticulously folded and hung in harmonic sequence at optically soothing equidistances. Throwing open the doors in the mornings is, I’ll be honest, a deeply satisfying moment. Isn’t that sick, finding pleasure in ramrod uniformity? It is, it’s sick.
Then there’s the desk, all fixed edges and right angles. Symmetry and spacing are more than watchwords; they’re commandments. My workspace is vigorously kempt and structured; a tightly controlled ecosystem begging to stand down. The linear display is a cry for help.
Utter turmoil, however, reigns in the kitchen. Books are crammed into cupboards and they aren’t cookbooks. They’re fiction and non-fiction, science and history and biography, titles from every category except cookbooks. Hand tools are in with the silverware; I have bags of old receipts and cans of tennis balls in the dishwasher. Where’s the food? At restaurants where it belongs.
Suffice to say there are some bees in my bonnet and they’re the size of doorknobs. But why am I sitting here brooding when I should be calling around for professional help? Well, frankly, phone calls smudge cellphones and I just polished the screen — for the billionth time. So what I need to do is calm down, step back from the abyss, and try to manage this burgeoning affliction.
I’ve taken the first step by admitting I’m too zealous about order and tidiness. Next I need to let things slide, learn to accept disarray, allow it to exist unfettered. Besides, there are worse things; being a hoarder, for one, having a phobia, for another. And those could be bats in my belfry rather than bees in my bonnet.
So, by comparison, compulsive neatness is pretty small potatoes. Regardless, play it safe and steer clear of the book The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up. The author makes it sound so innocent and liberating, but it isn’t. It’s exhausting.
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