I am not good at owning things. In truth I am terrible at it. My late husband: he was good at it. No sooner did an object come into his possession than he found the ideal place to store it AND actually stored it there AND put it back after each and every time he used it.
This was true of every ever-loving thing he ever owned, from socks (YES, SOCKS) to the Sawzall, and I always knew that about him, and I especially knew it from the moment during our first date when I laid eyes on the trunk space of his ’85 Corolla, but I knew it even better after he died and I started Using Things and Then Tragically Failing to Put Them Back Where They Belonged. Once that happens, once the tragedy sets in and the things begin to accrue into large-scale crap formations, let me tell you something: they never, ever go back. Instead they just sit there, adrift in the universe, taking up room in the wrong spot.
When Chris first visited me at my parents’ home in Connecticut, he observed heterogeneous piles of things in peculiar disparate locations and asked, as was his wont, about each one. “Amy?” he’d query. “Why is there a giant saucepan sitting on the porch filled with moldy cat food?” And I’d reply, I SERIOUSLY HAVE NO IDEA. And he’d ask, “Well, shouldn’t we clean it up?” And I’d say, NO, PROBABLY NOT. And he’d ask, “Well, why not?” And I’d reply, BECAUSE MY MOM WOULD HAVE A BABY, when in fact my mother had long since lost interest in and facility for such an enterprise.
At this information Chris’s brow would crinkle with sad perplexity and he would walk away, only to return later when no one was around, often in the dark of night in a skin-tight cat suit, on a stealth mission to clean up and normalize the porch. And my mom would quietly have a baby. Out of earshot of Chris. Because she knew how much I loved him. But to me, she’d heave a sigh and say something about the Saucepan Being Out There For a Reason or, if he had gone ahead and reorganized the kitchen pantry, she’d add something about Not Being Able to Find Anything Any Longer. The pantry! Which always looked like a 14-megaton bomb had detonated in a pasta factory!
Chris was so impressed by my parents’ attitude toward the house and all its contents that he invented an entire school of philosophy to explain it: Situational Determinism. This is not to be confused with Situational Determinism in economics, which Google tells me has something to do with some guy named Lastis (didn’t I almost fail economics in college? and why the hell did I take it, anyway?). Unlike the Stoics (as if), the Platonists (please) and the hairy German pessimists (though there’s a giant saucepan on the porch for them, too), Situational Determinists maintain that if Something exists in a certain State, it exists because it exists in that State, and it will continue to exist in that State because it already exists in that State. So the saucepan sits on the porch because the saucepan sits on the porch, and so we may conclude that the saucepan will always sit on the porch.
Occasionally I sense within myself the dangerous stirrings of a Situational Determinist. A stack of crap amasses in some corner of some room, and soon enough I fail to see it. Soon enough it exists because it exists, and therefore it will always exist, and therefore I am screwed. My only hope is to not own crap to begin with — and to get rid of as much of it, on a regular basis, as I can. Some of it I give away; some of it I bag and move to the curb on trash night, trusting that the garbage collectors, at least, will see it and whisk it away. Good thing they’re not Situational Determinists, or public hygiene would suffer. Someone should give them a raise.
8 thoughts on “situational determinism”
I am laughing and crying simultaneously. So much so that it caused some sort of vibration and my own precariously stacked piles of crap. These piles seem to perpetually leave my spouse in a state somewhere between utter frustration and disbelief, seasoned with a dash of annoyance.
Your gifts are astoundingly rich, thank you for sharing them so generously.
Thank you, Fran!
This made me feel good. Just sorta right with the world. I don’t have a saucepan with catfood, but I have the equivalent, perhaps literally, surely symbolically. It makes me feel safe. And I also like the unspoken dynamic of inlaws in this post. Kudos to your rapport with the garbage collectors, the Circumstancial Purgers of Situatioanl Determinists.
Okay, I don’t do this, but after reading your blog and being knocked out over and over again, I’m going public and telling people I know and kinda know and might know that they have to start reading it. Now. And for the foreseeable future. Wow.
Thank you, Dave — for reading, and for spreading the word. Much appreciated on both counts!
It has to do, as well, with imagination. Not a lack there of, but the ability to imagine the crap is there, because it is there. It is corollary to some one remarking about the building that used to be somewhere. You swear they are mistaken. It was there this morning, and every morning, on your drive to work. But on the way home you notice it is gone. And wonder when.
Only the shaman could see the sailing ships coming to their shore. The others couldn’t imagine it.
For many of us, it is a matter of priorities that controls the situation. I have better things to do than worry about the piles that develop around me. Plus, everytime someone cleans up, I can’t find anything.
Also, as the dust and dirt, even the stuff, is incremental it doesn’t trigger some threshold internally in some of us. It is only slightly worse than yesterday……