In Order of Importance...

Today, I received an e-mail from an incoming student, asking what they can do to prepare for my Fall term class. Earnest, hard-working, painful. Is it two days before the term starts? Oh, how I laughed and laughed.

Roughly speaking, here is some of what's on my mind, in order of importance, and where my Fall term class ranks.
1. New socks which promise no blisters for my European jaunt starting next week
2. European jaunt next week
3. Presentations for conferences in Europe that need to be ready by next week
4. Papers to be turned into presentation for European conferences that need to be ready by next week
5. Why key lime flavored yogurt is so awesome
6. The answer to 5 probably only makes the yogurt unhealthy
7. How long I can continue to go without registering my car in the state I moved to last July
8. Why "How I Met Your Mother" seems to be on every night on CBS?
9. puppies
10. what to do on the 4th of July
12,492. Fall term course that needs to be prepared
You'd be surprised just how far down the list my Spring term course falls. Aside from trying to explain what an article review should do, this may be the toughest e-mail to answer ever.

First Year Progress Report

Somewhere along the line, this blog forgot a few things: first, that it's a blog (see the giant gap in posting over the last several months), and second, that this has been a big year for things other than personal drama.

I'm almost at the one year anniversary of the move to the new job. And while there have been a lot of personal hurdles this year, the new job has been stellar.

The folks I work with, while high strung and needy as any department might be, are also by and large really nice people. Everyone who's invited me for dinner or drinks has turned out to be someone I like to have dinner or drinks with. They don't quite get what I do in some cases, but they've not dismissed it, and in most cases, they're open to hearing about it. Very impressive considering the idea of multidisciplinary stuff wasn't on their radar even when they hired me.

There's funding. I'm about to launch off for my summer conference fest, and I've been to at least three conferences this year. I've got a teaching release coming up, which will make my teaching load a 1/1.

That's right. A 1/1.

Read it again. I'm okay with rubbing it in. Take a few minutes and grumble. I'm okay. I've got time. 'Cause I'm going to be on a 1/1, suckas!

The new town is better than the old town. There are people here. With interests other than hockey (though the sports fans here are still ridiculous). And there's Thai food that can be delivered to my apartment anytime I want. And it doesn't equate "vinegary" with "spicy" as in some places. I've got friends who, even if they do mostly teach at universities, at least don't all teach at my university.

So, for those of you who've wondered: the first year gets an A-.

Updates and Carry Ons

I should note, first, for the record that I'm back. Second, I must say thanks for all the kind thoughts and support, which did help more than I can adequately express.

I did what I could, which wasn't as much as I would like. And then I left, knowing that what was left to be done had to be done by my parents, that it would require them to want to change things themselves. I do not have high hopes for these changes to ever happen. The last visits to my mother in the hospital were tense. On multiple occasions, they devolved into arguments at the thought that some her precious things were being moved. Worse, that some of them might simply not be there.

There's something to note about the logic of hoarding that allows it to completely ignore considerations of the laws of thermodynamics. Somehow, it seems to say, that if you just twist things the right way, everything will fit even though there's only a prescribed about of volume to be dealt with.

I brought back with flea-bit ankles, smoke-filled clothing to be washed, a sense of guilt that I was abandoning my parents - particularly my mother who will have to use a walker for quite awhile - to an inevitable accident, and the secret fear that I'm becoming a hoarder, too. Do I need all these books? These CDs? Is the comfort I take from old photographs just the start of these things? Or am I just a slob? There's a feeling of lingering depression, too, that I can't quite shake. I feel like I'm going through the motions at the moment, and little things that I can usually shake off - like someone pointing out that my eyes shake, particularly when I'm especially focused - cut me to the core.

I've taken the weekend to focus. No work: just visits with friends, swimming through the humidity, sleeping late in bed, reading and listening to music. Thinking about what I can possibly throw out. Do I need a couch? Is there a reverse condition to hoarding? I remember thinking at some point that there should be opposites to every medical condition. I wish, for just a moment, that I had the opposite of hoarding. That I needed more space around me. But then I think that's probably how people wind up in cabins in Wyoming or Idaho, and that's never a good way to start.

Inspirational Speeches

In all the old movies where the hero is leading a group of people away from danger, there's a moment where fatigue sets in and morale begins to falter. Whatever they are running from is, of course, immune to such things and gets inexorably closer. Usually at this moment, our hero makes a speech that recharges the motley group to dig a little deeper, to keep moving and survive.

I imagine there's a good psychological thriller on hoarding for someone who wants to write it. Or at least a really fucked up young adult novel about going to grandma's house and being swallowed up by the mess she thinks keeps her safe from whatever her personal boogie man is. The climactic scene could have our lead character trying to reach a garbage bag. Or the front door. Or even a Broom +2 for all my gamer friends - you know who you are. And the junk, maybe even the walls would be reaching out to take them. That's when the speech would have to happen.

At least now is when it has to happen here, because that's what it feels like is happening. I'm headed back later in the week, and while victory seems impossible, a stalemate would be nice. Otherwise it feels like just going back to wait for some awful accident.


My sister called.

"How's the cleaning going?" She can't come help - she's more or less banned, and no one really trusts her. From my perspective, she's like inviting a little black rain cloud over. One that'll hit you up for cash.

"It's fine," I said. "As good as can be expected."

"If you're throwing stuff out, I'll take the Egg Chair."

There it is. It's the second reference since I've been here. I blame myself for expecting subtlety. It's never happened before, so I don't know why it would happen now.

My family is fixated with things. Once, when I was visiting my grandmother, just months before she passed away, I was sitting at her bedside, having a great conversation about when I'd stayed with her as a child. My uncle appeared at the door and asked - interrupting the conversation - gestured at the things in the room and said, "What would you like?"

"Just more conversation, thanks," I replied. "And maybe a Coke.".

The other evening, visiting my mother, she informed me my younger brother wants the portraits of our grandparents. I didn't know what to say. Evidently, she expected a fight.

"They're just things," I said. "Let him have them."

The Trip, So Far...

Imagine a centipede that's six feet high in steel-toed combat boots. Imagine it has a sense of irony.

Say casually, as if to no one at all, "I'm just waiting for the other shoe to drop."

Wait and see.


Time is a little fuzzy right now.

Sometime a little more than a week ago, I flew home because my mother had to have emergency surgery for infections on her spinal cord.

Sometime, about a week ago more or less, my oldest friend's father died.

Sometime between then and now, my father decided that - to help with my mother's mobility when she got home - we needed to redo the floors in the house in addition to trying to clean and move things about.

My mother, have I mentioned, is a hoarder? My father, by the way, enables this.

My older sister and my mother have a rotten relationship in which each takes anything the other does as a personal affront. Also, my sister has a tendency to steal from or take advantage of my parents. My younger brother is 30, lives at home, and previously owned nunchucks. Neither are useful for anything like helping.

For example, when my sister heard my mother was in the hospital, she called me, 1/4 crying, 3/4 angry, because when she'd asked a nurse for information the nurse told her she wasn't authorized.


After a 30 second rhetorical analysis, it was revealed that in fact my mother had not talked to my sister, being unconscious from pain pills and two incisions into her spine. But instead, the nurse had said there were three people authorized to get information: my father, my uncle, and myself.

Sometimes my sister misses the point.

Also, she didn't notice how she said "your mother."

The funeral for my friend's father is Monday morning at an hour which only proves my theory that nothing good happens before 10 a.m. As a child, I spent essentially every weekend at my friend's house, as the battle between my sister and parents began when I was fairly young, and the need to mediate wore out even 8-year-old Curmudgeon. His father was the picture definition of terse. We used to joke about him talking like Yosemite Sam, but he never actually let on if he was rightly annoyed that they had essentially adopted me on the weekends.

My friend took care of his father at home for several months as he battled cancer and a hip replacement.

He also did this for his mother a few years back.

He's my hero.

Tonight, after cleaning up several bags of trash that were not even a dent in the already metaphorical crater that is my parents house, I found myself angry. Angry that I get claustrophobic in the house I grew up in. Angry that bags and bags of trash didn't cut into the boxes and boxes of useless shit that litter this place. Angry that I have possibly done something to my right rotator cuff (a friend's diagnosis) in the process of shifting crap around but not actually getting rid of most of the problem.

Angry to the point that I don't particularly want to go see my mother tomorrow even though she's more or less confined to bed in a rehabilitation facility and most of her God loving church friends stopped turning up two days after she got there. Angry at myself for feeling that way. Angry that I took a job intentionally knowing it was away from my family because after 10 days here, I begin to get claustrophobic and antsy and feel bugs which probably aren't quite so imaginary crawling on me, and yet I feel guilty about it. Angry that I'm not quite the good son my oldest friend is, who found it in himself to clean up his parents and potentially lose his job and who just lost his girlfriend and yet kept on and said, like a made-for-TV-movie hero-to-be, "I just keep on."

I'm tired.

I've Nowhere Else to Put This

List of items discarded in mad attempt to slightly de-hoard my parents house while my mother is away recuperating from spinal surgery:
  • paper grocery bag of expired Jello mixes
  • 30 year old dead-beat brother who lives at home's nunchucks
  • books titled "Clean House, Clean Planet" and "Unclutter Your House," both so dusty their titles could not be seen.
I suspect it will only get worse. Also, I'm discovering a latent allergy to dust.