I have this thing for organizing and categorizing that's been fairly well established. I make lists.
I recently discovered the "Stickie" application on my computer and now have an electronic to-do list. I like my dishes washed. I love to drop off bags of clothes at thrift stores. Cleaning out and paring down. Scraping together six pennies to pay the balance on my latte. Deleting read emails and going paperless on bills.
There are, of course, blind spots. I didn't use to wash the inside of the water bottle I drink from every day. EVER. For like a year. It had been suggested to me that this was disgusting but I just laughed. It wasn't until several people together observed the algae colony inside the rim, demanded to know what the hell was wrong with me, and ambushed the Nalgene with a wire brush and bleach that my fetid little container had her first bath.
Ditto on the car I drove that one year. I didn't own the Ford Escort as much as killed her by driving her as far and often with as little care as possible. I was much more attached to my bicycle and so treated the Escort as a science experiment; I encouraged her to rot, just to see exactly how it would go down.
The only time I remember taking the Escort to the shop was after I drove her sideways over train tracks and folded her undercarriage like an accordion, something the mechanic said he'd never quite seen before. The one working headlight, one working windshield wiper and gummy interior weren't a problem for me. When it became one working tire, I donated her to the homeless shelter.
When I leave home for as little as a few days, I check the dates on all the dairy products in the refrigerator and throw out any produce that stands the teeniest tiniest chance of wilting. I pay bills, answer letters, and check in with my prison pen pal to see how his appeal is going.
When I'm in a full-blown categorizing frenzy, I can go a little Beautiful Mind on myself. I can totally imagine being busted by someone walking in on me while I mutter and pace in a bathrobe, fists full of highlighters and pens, scribbling lists and arrows and flowcharts on index cards tacked to the walls. This morning I found the index cards I made last year while trying to convince myself to study for the GRE and apply to grad school.
I have hundreds of cards of vocabulary words and remedial math definitions that I copied out - painstakingly, methodically - and then couldn't make myself study. A few weeks ago I threw the GRE practice book in the garbage but those index cards? I don't know what's more painful: Seeing them litter up a corner of my otherwise-organized room or throw away so many hours of categorical labor. I'm considering taking them to the high school down the street and selling them to an overachieving nerd in the parking lot.
Back at my parents' house in Cincinnati, I decided to clean out my old closet and I recognized another of my blind spots: Shoes. Really, do I want the Hush Puppies that I bought in Chile in 1994 solely to fit in with the stoners I was camping with, shoes that I did not then and do not now find attractive? What about running shoes from the high school track team? And the cheap rubber booties I save in case I go rafting in Texas again? Seriously.
I also got into the box that my mom keeps in the attic, full of stuff she saved from my childhood: stories I wrote and pictures I drew, photos and mementos. I looked through the box and came away thinking a couple of things:
1. It's nice that I have childhood memories of anything besides writing reports because that's apparently what I did ALL THE TIME. The box bears evidence of non-stop report writing and the report subjects vary widely: Ferns. Lungs. Peace. Ballet. The Devonian Period. Neanderthals. Mesopotamia. Indians. And, of course, lists. On riveting themes like what color hair my family members have and what I had for lunch.
This spellbinding journal entry from Camp Joy gives readers a captivating look at what went on in my cabin on that Wednesday night:
Aine is crying for "personnel" reasons
Rolanda is hooting like an owl
Juanita is hanging her coat on the rafter
Sunny just popped her head up - The End
The whole thing makes me wonder if I somehow didn't notice that the girls were also whispering about how creepy Jessica was staring and taking notes on them again.
2. I must remember so much because I was writing everything down all the time. I did a lot as a kid but it seems like I did even more writing about what I was doing.
3. I am, now, so who I was then.