The Whole World’s Daft
Being a Yorkshirewoman, my mother had some pithy sayings. One of her favorites was “Soomtimes I think the whole world’s daft but thee and me, and I soomtimes have me doots aboot thee.”
No argument from me, except I’ll go further and say I have no “doot” about three or me, either. You’re crazy, I’m crazy—everybody is crazy in a different way.
Just notice how a couple in love finds each other perfect—for awhile. Between six and nine months into their romance, when the pink fluffy cloud of perfect romantic love begins to dissipate—or brain chemicals that cause the euphoria wear off—reality sets in and they have to start dealing with each other as they really are—crazy.
Radical as it sounds, acceptance of this concept could save marriages, friendships, working relationships—heck, maybe even prevent wars. Acknowledging each other’s insanity at the outset makes it possible for us to move past it and love each other anyway.
Because people I know well and love read this (sometimes, maybe), I will use only myself for specific examples to illustrate my point, because I have probably already hurt some feelings and/or raised some defenses, if indeed anyone close to me actually reads this.
Most of us put on a good front and come across as reasonably sane. I’ll bet people who know me think I’m one of the most rock-solid sane people they know. And I think the same about most people in my social circle—except for those I know more intimately, when one glimpses the real person underneath the socially accepted façade. Among my intimates, the range of craziness varies, but everyone has a tinge and some are quite near, if not over, the edge.
(Before I go any further, let me acknowledge, despite my flippant tone, I recognize real, diagnosable mental illness and am sensitive to the potential for offense in throwing around terms like “crazy.” My purpose is to try to understand that the challenges of being human put us all somewhere on the spectrum of mental illness; some are just more fortunate than others in where we fall on that spectrum.)
After going through a major mid-life crisis in my early 40s and spending many years working on my mental health, through either therapy or self-help, I’ve thought of myself as quite mentally healthy for probably the last 15 or 20 years.
Then I retired, and traits that had been lying dormant—but were really quite apparent to anyone who knew what to look for—reared up and surprised me. Which is strange, because when I was working I always had a neat office and kept my email and voicemail inboxes cleared out as quickly as I could. I just thought that was being conscientious. My mother used to say that even when I was a young child, if she had a visitor whom she wanted to show around the house, she could go into my room with no fear that it would be messy. So I have always been tidy, which I always thought was a sign of an orderly and disciplined mind.
The flip side, unacknowledged until recently, is that I’m obsessive-compulsive. Not quite to the point of pathology—I don’t have to lick lampposts or count mailboxes or wash doorknobs, thank heavens—but enough to sometimes make me (and others) uncomfortable. My inability to abide dishes in the sink makes it hard not to nag my husband, or follow behind him, if he leaves his cereal bowl to soak for a few minutes. A laundry basket full or nearly overflowing is hard to ignore. I can’t walk through the house without straightening a throw rug here or closing a closet door or drawer there.
The irony is that I used to think this was virtuous, disciplined behavior! Think how well I would have done in the military, with my shiny boots and hospital corners.
Back in the late ’80s, when my younger daughter and I shared an apartment, we had a long freezing spell during which many pipes froze and burst. Our next door neighbor’s bathroom flooded my daughter’s closet and we had to move stuff out. We were without running water for a couple of days, so we were filling buckets from an outside faucet of a neighboring building for washing and flushing.
This happened between Christmas and New Year’s, and my daughter, being a teenager, often had friends over. All her stuff was in the living room and the apartment was chaotic.
So I painted. I got out an easel and canvas and paints and set them up on the dining room table and painted. I don’t know how long it had been since I had done any art, but apparently I needed a situation in which things were already such a mess that I gave in to it and tolerated even more mess.
I have previously quoted Anne Lamott’s famous line that she used to not be able to write if there were dishes in the sink, and now she could write if there were a body in the sink. I still have to get certain things out of the way before I can do other things, whether they’re creative or just necessary.
When we got back from our holiday trip I made a list (lists are so crucial to people like me—otherwise I feel overwhelmed with everything I need to do; lists help me organize my thoughts and take on one thing at a time.) I wrote a poem about my list-making last fall:
Six reasons I Need lists
- I don’t know where to start
- I need to get things out of my head and in writing
- I am obsessive-compulsive (like Michelangelo and Beethoven)
- GTC (Getting Things Done) is a high value
- 5. Crossing items off is immensely satisfying
- For the same reason, according to Einstein, we need time:
so I, like the Universe, don’t try to do everything at once.
So, after the initial unpacking, laundry, grocery shopping etc. I had to write my blog entry about the trip, put the Christmas stuff away, go through all the trip photos and print them, get the end-of-year household financials in order, shred documents and receipts—boring to the reader but absolutely essential to my mental well-being. (So compulsive am I that the trip photos are not only organized, backed up and printed, they are already in an album, something I admit not with pride but with some consternation). I really need to make doctor and dental appointments, which you would think would be higher priority, but I had to clear the decks before I could even look at my calendar.
My compulsiveness makes me very, very productive, often exhausted, and probably terribly annoying to others. I can’t say I try to keep it under control, but I do try not to impose it on others, although my husband probably doesn’t think so. I’m sure it’s not easy for him, because his standards of neatness and order are just different, and when we first got together I offered a bargain that if he would tolerate my being a neat-freak I would try to tolerate his relative untidiness (and he’s not terribly untidy; I don’t think I could live with a total slob). Another poem, written around the time I met Gary:
I have fortified the structure of my house and sealed it off,
put every dish and doily in its place,
hung curtains up to keep out too much light,
double-locked the door
and nestled safely in my refuge.
Who will come and breach the ramparts,
raze my house of cards
track muddy boots across my spotless floor,
laugh away my smug complacency?
Will the Vandal smash the doors
or shall I let him in?
Invite the Visigoth for tea —
“Come in. No need to wipe your feet.”
The point has been made. For me to thrive and be creative I need to get out of my comfort zone, but I also have to have a comfort zone to retreat to when I need it. Another weird admission: I sometimes go to sleep planning the closet I’m going to clean or some other stupidly mundane task I want to do the next day.
One of the best things that ever happened to me is having grandchildren, because you have to tolerate a lot of chaos with small children around. Recently, five-year-old Chloe opened a bag of polyfill I had bought to fill her “tooth pillow,” and she and Gary ended up building indoor snow forts, having snowball fights, and generally getting little bits of polyester fluff everywhere. The pillow is done and the bag is now sealed and hidden away. I do try to enforce a rule about cleaning up one mess, such as Play-Doh or paint, before starting on the next thing, but dried bits of Play-Doh might remain in the carpet for a while.
Maybe that’s the secret: my love for my grandchildren overrides my OCD. I will tolerate a level of wildness and silliness I never thought possible, and I’m sure I was far less tolerant when my own children were small (and I couldn’t send them home at the end of the day).
The point, of course, is that accepting our own and our loved ones’ (and our friends’ and co-workers’ and fellow church members’ and other drivers’ and political leaders’ and just about everybody who’s not committing actual crimes) craziness and love them anyway, we might actually live in a saner world.