How do you express frustration without sounding unappreciative for all the good things in your life? How do you convey disappointment without letting it swallow you whole? Quite simply, how do you just put out there what’s really bothering you?
For the past three weeks, this website has been silent. There have been no new entries of any kind since May 5th (not counting an update to The Very Foolish Sarah Tressler on May 11th). One problem has been my mood. It’s been quite sour at times over the past month. (I have this uncanny ability to allow negativity to dominate my thinking. It’s a very difficult trait to let go of.)
Here’s the deal. I’m a 36-year-old man with no job, no girlfriend and no place of my own. I still live with my parents, my maternal grandmother and her cat. I’ve often joked about this current situation being my Costanza period as a way of coping. But truthfully, I’ve never been happy about any of this.
This wasn’t how I envisioned my life when I was much younger. I was supposed to have a special someone, a great career as a creative person and an independent life. None of that has happened. Part of that is my fault for giving up too much too easily when I get discouraged but the rest of the time, I’m not really given a fair shake. With my 37th birthday coming up in the next little while, it’s impossible to deny this reality any longer. Something has to change. I want to be a happier person.
Although my mood has thankfully improved recently (mostly because of the warmer weather and a lot of sympathetic music), I’ve not been terribly inspired to write, another problem I’ve been experiencing of late. It’s funny. You can assemble several decent pieces in a row over a considerable amount of time without any fear of losing momentum and then, just as suddenly, your creativity goes on vacation and loses all contact with you. Regular readers will find this refrain quite familiar.
One somewhat welcome distraction from all of this has been the family attic. When we moved into our current residence almost 30 years ago, a whole bunch of boxes crammed with assorted possessions went right up there where they quickly became forgotten (with the exception of Christmas decorations which, for many years, came down for the holiday season then were put back up in the new year). As I grew up, even more junk was relocated to the highest floor in the house. Nothing up there ever seemed destined to be thrown away. The pile of crap just kept growing.
In 2004, the nephew of my then-living chiropractor (she died in 2009), who had been recommended to us for the purpose of transforming my mom’s old dance studio into an apartment for my grandmother in 1997 and had worked on numerous home improvement projects since then, talked my dad into “finishing” the attic. Unfortunately, this turned out to be a terrible idea.
The one-room floor, which was never properly renovated when we settled here in 1984, was artificially transformed into two incomplete spaces. With my regrettable assistance, the handyman had drywalled one-half of the room (making it feel much smaller) and created a cubbyhole which stored all our crap. A make-shift door was made out of a sawed off piece of drywall. Only a screw placed in a hole on the front in the top middle keeps it in place.
Once the door is removed and put to the side, unless you’re Peter Dinklage you have to crouch through the unlit area (there was supposed to be a light fixture installed) using a flashlight in order to keep track of your surroundings. The confining space is not terribly easy to traverse through. There are wooden floor beams you have to watch out for or you’ll trip.
Needless to say, my parents were not thrilled with the handyman’s work. After my mom got into a heated argument with him one uncomfortable summer afternoon over what he was charging us for a deeply flawed project (more than 20 dollars an hour, if my memory is good), he was promptly fired. He’s not been back since.
About a month or so later, I took it upon myself to begin the thankless task of going through our voluminous attic possessions in order to find suitable material for my former church’s rummage sale in early October 2004. (I’ve been an atheist since 1996. Mom still goes.) I would estimate between 45 and 50 boxes of stuff existed up there at that time. Over the next three summers, even more items would be removed reducing the overall total considerably. (Despite initially being upset at me for doing this, my mom eventually got on board.)
A few years ago, the attic became a second home for mice. You could often hear them carrying on through the walls in numerous rooms in the house, particularly at night. Ultimately, my dad started buying these little bags of poison that come in a cereal-sized box. You open up the bags, lay them strategically on the floor where the mice tend to congregate and they’re supposed to mistake them for food. (The poison is concealed in these little, colourful pellets.)
Because of this annoying development, I stayed as far away from the attic as you can imagine. But on May 13 this year, the sabbatical ended. Instead of wanting a purchased gift, my mom wanted me to perform a good deed for her on Mother’s Day. She asked me to clear everything out of the cubbyhole and bring down all those dead electronics we’d been needlessly hanging on to so they can be eventually taken away by a company that specializes in removing such materials. (That day can’t come soon enough.)
It was a particularly warm afternoon to be spending any amount of time in the attic of an old home. Based on past experiences, I was used to that (except sweat dripping into my eye which happened on a follow-up trip).
What I wasn’t anticipating was all that mouse shit. It was everywhere. On the main room carpet, in some of the boxes, near a pipe (where my dad had literally seen a few rodents shoot down years earlier) and most especially on the floor of the cubbyhole. I should’ve worn a mask.
Thankfully, there were no critters to keep an eye on me. However, there were disintegrated remnants of them in parts of that main room. The poison worked.
It was overwhelming and disgusting but I had a job to do and by God (how’s that for irony?), I did the best I could under the deeply disturbing circumstances. (I was also a bit tired from not having a great night’s sleep.) With the exception of scattered bits of wood, a bag of insulation, some shingles, three boxes of additional wood and another box filled with sawdust and other garbage, all of our possessions were safely placed in the main room. (The flimsy boxes were too heavy to move and I didn’t know where to place the scattered bits.) And quite a number of dead electronics found their way to the front porch.
Ever since then, I’ve made two additional journeys upstairs where I’ve discovered more useless equipment (like a very long ghettoblaster covered in old paint drips and drywall crumbs) and have managed to fill and remove at least two full bags of trash. (Not a pleasant job, by any means. Sadly, only some of the rat shit was removed.) But there’s still between 15 and 20 boxes of stuff (among other unboxed items) left to peruse and assess. (May 30 UPDATE: After clearing out three more bags of garbage this afternoon, I specifically counted a little more than 30 boxes. Ugh.) More than ever, I’m determined to finish the job I started eight years ago. It will not be easy.
As helpful as this on-again, off-again process has been for me personally (a massive clean-up job really can improve your focus and temperament), it’s also been a complete pain in the ass. I shouldn’t have to be the one to do this at this point in my life (not that I’m not appreciative of having something to do while my life is on hold). I shouldn’t be dealing with useless junk that no one else wants to deal with, much of which isn’t mine. (And this is only one room we’re talking about.) But because I’m not getting paid for my writing, I’m not dating and I’m still at home, at least I have some useful purpose. But I’m growing tired of not progressing beyond this stage of my life.
I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do. The attic clean-up will most likely continue when this stream of hot weather passes us by in a couple of days. Because it’s much more bearable on cooler afternoons, this process will probably drag on and off for the next several months until the next church rummage sale in September. (I’m hoping it doesn’t take nearly that long.) As long as I have a clear objective of how to proceed, the most disgusting room in the house will gradually become slightly more inhabitable and fewer boxes of junk will live up there.
But beyond that, all my other problems remain. How does a late-blooming, shy person still living at home resurrect a long dormant love life? How does a blogger expand a readership to the point of attracting the publishing and broadcasting industries’ attention? And how does a mama’s boy finally grow up to become a man?
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, May 28, 2012