My family-in-law came to visit a while back, and for those of us who don't have the most kept-up homes - shit, even for some of us that do - this kind of visit is perfect for sending us into an apocalyptic panic. As my very good friend explained it:
"Of COURSE you're panicked - you're allowed to be panicked. You SHOULD be panicked. Your mother-in-law is coming to your house. Your mother-in-law is coming to your house!" My mother-in-law with the impeccable everything. My grandmother-in-law with the even more impeccable everything that taught MIL how to be impeccable. At everything.
Meanwhile my everything was a mess, and each issue of our modest space was cause for alarm - there's not enough room at the dinner table. The coffee table is missing a drawer (broken from when husband turned it over in a rage). Our couch has been known to cause severe lower back pain. The hallway smells like cat pee no matter how many times I attack it with "urine be gone." Our dogs bark excitedly and jump on you and embarrassingly behave like their people haven't really ever bothered to train them (this is mostly true).
Also - I don't buy alcohol anymore since they last visited. Neither does my husband, really, for that matter (not openly). This gave me a brief anxiety attack.
They will notice this. They may not say anything, but they'll notice. And then they'll look at me like "..." And I'll know that they notice. Dammit.
But what I was really upset about was the complete lack of organization of our crap. Crap that was everywhere, on every counter and table and side table. Even the dryer. And in my book (my book on households gone to shit) if there's crap on the dryer that's a bonafide situation.
All I could do was stare at it. I tried to move things but some of them didn't really have homes.
What IS this? Why do I have this? Where do I put this?
Hmm....Can't throw it away - that's wasteful.
Okay. It stays here.
After anxiously walking around the place the piles were all I could see. I had to get away to a safe and quiet place. So I hid in the bathroom.
That's when I noticed the soap.
The soap on the bathroom sink. A lovely-smelling bar that had melted during the last move and was now, in my frazzled myopia, horribly, unacceptably disfigured. And suddenly I was mad with my new-found power and control over something completely meaningless and insignificant - This! I will change this! My frustration had found its focus.
This soap. This soap. It is completely and categorically unacceptable. It's so used-looking. And melted. Disfigured soap. Unclean. Un-okay.
I rushed out to the kitchen, grabbed a sharp knife*, skipped back and went to work, checking to see the exact spot that I could cut the soap and have it be Just So. Once that was decided it was quick. It was done. The self-satisfaction afterwards could only be described as "certifiable." I glanced up into the mirror, the knife still in my hand, my unwashed hair in a nest on top of my head. There's a crazy woman cutting soap in my bathroom. Fitting that the only other scenes combining knives and bathrooms are horror movies. Knives should never be in the bathroom - this is what can happen. Well, this and murder.
Outside in Reality every horizontal surface was still covered. All the piles continued to surround me, yelling at me for reform. The laundry laughed at me. The crumbs on the counters did a jig. Then the magic happened: slowly the energy from my insane soap-trimming fueled me into action and efficacy and the superficial changes were made. Everything else was shoved out of sight into the bedroom.
Family-in-law arrived and soon it was time to eat dinner, which was the parade of my faux-pas as a result of being you know, too busy on more important details. There were no place mats. And I can only explain it as plainly as this - in this family there is nothing more embarrassing than putting plates of food down on a naked table. Also, I forgot to hand out napkins - or in my case, paper towels folded to look like napkins. And, based on grandma-in-law's passive-aggressive commentary, I had a serving spoon out when I should have had a serving fork (she stood there and stared at it, not so much actually helpless as just irritated and confused at my total stupidity and complete domestic ineptitude). For shame.
But let me tell you people. 20 feet away I had the sharpest, most evenly cut nicest-looking bar of used soap anyone has ever seen. It was fit for an OCD museum. Or one of those random highway attractions in the middle of nowhere, like the World's Largest Ball of Yarn.
And you know what? The whole night went by and no one even noticed. No one said a damn thing to me about my amazing soap.
It's not just in these emergency situations that my focus dwindles down to a frightening pinpoint of the most senseless and inefficient kind. Each day I become distracted by the unimportant, the unnecessary. Then I become overwhelmed, as it all becomes very urgent and must be done NOW. Then the helpful, meaningful things get overshadowed by the small, the insignificant.
It's a different kind of procrastination, but procrastination nonetheless. In college it helped me avoid writing papers so I could clean, or go out to buy groceries instead of clean. Or watch TV to avoid having to buy groceries.
The compulsion to avoid is still there but now I'm aware of it. And awareness is the first step! The first step to leaving your soap the hell alone.
*For those of you curious culinary connoisseurs, the knife used was a santoku. Based on my very light research (i.e. Google image hunting), "santoku" means "three virtues" or "three uses" in Japanese - slicing, dicing, and mincing. Worth mentioning, I think, because if it weren't for the embarrassment I would freely advocate for a fourth use thanks to its trusted combination of precision, balance and separation improvement.