Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Hoarding

As a general rule, I have access to 2.5 TV channels. And as a general rule, I don't mind my relative "cultural" "isolation."

However, on vacation, flipping mindlessly among 50-something channels is a fun novelty. And recently I saw an episode of "Hoarders." That makes three or four total I've seen so far.

Frightening. Not because it's foreign; because it's NOT foreign.

I recognize a couple of aspects of hoarding behaviour. First, I know today's routine objects are tomorrow's marvelous artifacts. My father was a historian who had done archival research. He knew the thrill of holding a piece of paper signed by someone famous. Professionally, he also understood that much of history is accidental. It's not the sheaf of Confederate money that's valuable; it's the stamp on the envelope the money was stored in. That kind of thing. Needless to say, we had a lot of junk to go through and dispose of when my parents died, some of which might have been of interest to a future historian, but oh well; that's why archives exist.

It's also true that objects can hold memories. Who hasn't heard a song and gone right back to a specific time and place? For me, "Sunshine of Your Love" = summer at the university swimming pool. So I can see that items from your own past can symbolize experiences and feelings you want to recall. And I can understand that getting rid of those things feels like you're getting rid of that person or place.

I also recognize that the behaviours I just described don't fit the DSM-IV standard for mental illness. However, I believe that some conditions exist on a continuum and I believe that I have seen behaviours on the "less severe" end of that continuum.

What caught my attention in this recent episode was something I hadn't heard before, but could of course (!!!) relate to. For some hoarders, the items they cling to represent decisions they don't have to make. Each item is still an option. They don't have to pick just one. They don't have to decide. And they certainly don't have to DO anything about these items.

I too am easily overwhelmed when I have too many options. However, even when I have an appropriate, handle-able number of options, I sometimes still resist making decisions. I don't want to rule out anything. I don't want to commit myself. (And, oddly, I am often quite capable of making quick decisions.)

All of this relates to my ability to dither instead of writing. Dithering, like hoarding, is uncomfortable, but writing, like acting on decisions, sometimes feels dangerous.

Writing can feel like the process of eliminating options, of committing to a particular idea. Each word I put down changes the story in my head from ethereal and perfect to mundane and flawed. Each time a character speaks, she becomes something less fabulous--more real. And, as anyone who has read The Velveteen Rabbit knows, being real can be a wonderful thing, but like most wonderful things, it's not without its hazards.

And then what if I can't do justice to the ethereal thing? What if I end up with something that looks more like a mudpie than a sculpture? Isn't it safer to just keep the ideas floating around in their perfection in my head?

Safer, maybe. But look at those Hoarders: They're not happy. They're not healthy, mentally or physically. And I don't want to be one.

And so I risk, and I write. (Even if I dither a bit as well.)