Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Happy Chinese New Year...sort of

Tomorrow (Thursday) is the Chinese New Year. This is not something I would normally keep track of, but I was reminded by my coworkers today that I should clean and sweep out my house tonight and wear red tomorrow for good luck. I’m not typically a superstitious person (with the exception of knocking on wood and never saying Macbeth in a theater) and as I intimated in my earlier post, I’m not much one for New Year’s celebrations. Besides, I have absolutely no Chinese heritage, nor any great knowledge or experience of the culture, aside from a newly discovered love of dim sum and the occasional craving for orange chicken.

So this does not explain why I came home this evening and cleaned every dirty dish in my kitchen, sprayed down my dog’s plastic kennel liner and washed her blankets, wiped the counters with disinfectant, took out the garbage, and then scrubbed down my bathroom, including my tub, sink, toilet, and floor. That reminds me—I didn’t shake out the mats. I should probably do that.

I have a friend with bipolar disorder who tends to houseclean when she is feeling manic. I don’t have manic episodes, but I often clean when I feel overwhelming emotions, particularly anxiety. And so, although I do not have bipolar disorder, my cleaning style tends to have two poles: when I feel sad or depressed my pervading sense of worthlessness slows me to a near halt, but when I feel anxious I tend to operate as if I’m on a gerbil wheel, running as fast as I can to escape myself. It may make for a shiny kitchen, but I’m still miserable.

At the end of my cleaning spree, I really wanted a bath in my nice clean tub. I got out some new bath salts, started the water, made some tea, lit a candle, and compiled the perfect playlist. With my dog watching curiously from the bathmat, I stepped into my relaxing bath and then stepped immediately out.

The water was cold. Not lukewarm, or room temperature, but cold. I live in an old building, and it probably should have occurred to me that the hot water runs out sometimes, even though it has never been a problem because I shower fairly quickly and always in the morning. Not wanting to waste my new bath salts, I sat down in the mint- and lavender-smelling water and shivered for about three minutes before I gave up.

This is the thing about holidays that celebrate the “new”: as much as I may want to sweep out all the dirt and hairballs of the last year, they tend to collect again in the corners within a few weeks. In my emotional extremes, I either helplessly watch the dust collect or I scoop it up agitatedly. Lately, however, I have spent most of my time somewhere in the middle, cleaning things when they ought to be cleaned and letting them sit when my attention is focused elsewhere. Tonight, I tilted a little toward one pole. I can pinpoint the trigger as an intersection between routine frustrations and an interaction that I perceived as critical of me. As usual, it wasn’t intended that way, but it still initiated the feeling that snowballed into anxiety when I came home to a sick dog and a messy house. In the past, I have used self-destructive behaviors to escape from the intensity, but tonight I was able to redirect my agitation just enough so that my tub got the worst of it. I made tea, which is something that soothes me, and attempted a relaxing bath. When that failed, I wrote about it.

I probably won’t be handing out any gifts in red envelopes tomorrow, but whatever I end up doing will involve an effort to stay in that space between extremes, where the future is not too overwhelming and the past is not so shameful. Dim sum, anyone?


  1. I like the way you found the middle. I cleaned in my office today. The Fall was too fast paced, so i just made stacks of things. Now as things are less hectic and I need a break, I go through a stack. Recycle this, file that, reuse those cd cases for cd's wandering our house. I do one or two stacks (as I feel like it) to keep it manageable.

    And why is it that a cold bath seems a particular betrayal? I am not a bath person, perhaps because I used to bathe with my brother and two cousins in a horse trough in the kitchen (closer to the stove for hot water) of my grandparents cabin in Northern Arizona. But I am sure that water that I am perfectly willing to swim in I am totally unwilling to bathe in. Three minutes seems a heroic time period to me!

  2. You're more woman than I! I would not have dared stick even a toe into a cold bath....bathing salts or not. :-) But I agree with your father, odd that we'll plunge into glacial run off, but not bathe in anything under body temps...willingly anyway. (I HAVE bathed in the frigid Colorado odd sensation to have your scalp shrink a coupla sizes while washing your hair!)

    BTW, love the new wallpaper on the site!!

  3. PS, you really seem to have inherited those great writing Charles genes! Keep it up.

  4. Always a great read and often a chuckle to be had... keep them coming! auntie