When I was growing up in Texas, I was organized and neat – annoying. I went to bed at night and looked forward to making the bed the next morning, and really enjoyed washing the dishes thoroughly by hand and drying them and making sure the vacuum cleaner left exactly even traces on the carpet.
Somewhere further, my daily routines have undergone a radical change. After graduating from college in New York, I began a life of almost obsessive-compulsive travel, flying between countries and continents and fleeing the idea of a permanent home. I nevertheless continued to build up possessions in all these lands, which, given the impossibility of traveling with all at once, I continued to scatter over other lands at the residences of friends and lesser acquaintances.
Although the chaotic arrangement was certainly liberating in its own way, it also resulted in a scattered sense of self – even though I feigned a kind of control over my universe by scribbling lists of what possessions I had left where, e.g. . “LEFT IN BEIRUT: PILLAR BONE FROM UZBEKISTAN, 10-KILO BOOK OF PERSIAN POEMS OF DUDE IN ISFAHAN, ETHIOPIC BALL-DING, STRAWBERRY PATTERN SOCKS FROM SARAJEVO, RAINBOW DRESS OF KAMBOD, KAMBOD.
But when the coronavirus pandemic struck in March 2020, it was no longer easy to prevent me from putting order in my life by constantly moving. With my previous world locked up, a 12-day stay in the Mexican coastal town of Zipolite became a month and then six months and then a year. Yet I continued to vehemently reject any suggestion that I had now effectively “lived” there.
Rather than take this opportunity to sort myself out spiritually – to experiment with leading one life in one place, as opposed to numerous parallel lives in different geographical areas – my solution was a scatter-in-place. If I swung in my hammock in Zipolite, my mind would soar at high speed between memories of other cities and countries, as if I were in some competition not to live in the moment.
There was also a lot of physical scattering, as I continued to build up material possessions that I could not then unload on other people. Thanks to the internet, I am accumulating all sorts of inexplicable and unnecessary items – a behavior that I have guiltyly classified as “coronavirus capitalism” – such as three pairs of high heels. This despite the fact that I could not even walk in high heels and in Zipolite did not use shoes at all.
I watched every morning jealously as the townspeople went about their matutinal ritual of sweeping and raking everything that could be swept or raked: houses, plots, streets, beaches, land. I started stockpiling brooms and other accessories in the hopes of one day setting up such a seemingly therapeutic routine myself, but it remained in the realm of fantasy and the brooms simply gathered dust.
The only routine I could maintain, it seems, was one of mass disorder – which I pursued as if it were an art form. Across every surface of my house were notebooks, pens, bathing suits, clothes I never wore because I always wore bathing suits, empty wine bottles, face masks, Mexican pesos, chipotle chiles, pieces of paper reminding myself in capital letters to clean . , mosquito-wielding rockets, plastic bags, an empty box I marked as “plastic bags” in preparation for approaching organization, and an oversized stuffed pig I rescued from attempted disposal by a neighbor.
Then there was the ubiquitous dirt and sand, which I not only detected from the beach, but also came in on my own – as the windows had to be constantly left open to prevent choking by heat.
No matter how gruesome the whole scene was, there was also something captivating about the challenge of remembering under what pile of running pants my tweezers were or what plastic bag my Sri Lankan insect repellent was hiding.
The mess certainly also challenged the prospect of permanence that I found so frightening.
Eventually, however, it became unsustainable, especially when I started traveling again – first on intra-Mexican trips and then on a two-month trip to Turkey and Albania. With each return to Zipolite, suitcases and handbags would remain unpacked on the floor, contributing to the already abundant obstacles for mid-night visits to the toilet and offering even more attractive accommodation options for scorpions.
The rubbish started to consume me, and I found myself in an increasingly caricatured situation as I tried to work on my latest book while sitting on my couch between packets of Turkish tea, sunglasses, sarongs, electronics and the plastic cracks that I ordered. from the internet, but still had to gather. As usual, everything, including me, was covered with a layer of sand.
I spent less and less time writing and spending more time worrying about what all this mess psychologically meant. A quick Google search returned such predictable headlines as “How the environment we create is a reflection of our state of mind”, “The psychology of space: what does your home say about you?”, and “Clean your room to clear your mind “.
My house is me, I said to myself: relatively put together on the outside, a disaster on the inside. And yet I still could not get myself to clean up, impossible as it was to know where to start.
Only after not one but two friends threatened to tie me up somewhere and clean the house for me did I wake up at 04:30 one morning and start sweeping – at first frantically, because it seemed like I never ‘ a dive into the disorder, and then in a more moderate manner, while the sand and dirt obediently gathered in manageable hills.
I still have a way to go – and doubt I’ll ever get to the point of making the bed – but at least the words are flowing again.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial views.