Me and Myself: Bringing Order to Chaos | The Coronavirus Pandemic

When I was growing up in Texas, I was organized and tidy – it was annoying. I slept at night looking forward to making my bed the next morning, and was more than happy to carefully wash and dry by hand, making sure the vacuum left a precisely proportioned mark on the carpet.

Somewhere, my daily life changed radically. After graduating from NYU, I embarked on an almost compulsive itinerant life, traveling between countries and continents, escaping the notion of fixed abode. Nonetheless, I continued to accumulate possessions in all of these countries, and given the impossibility of traveling with all of them at once, I began to spread out the residences of friends and lesser acquaintances in other countries.

While the chaotic arrangement does liberate myself in its own way, it also leads to a diffuse sense of self – even if I pretend to have some kind of control over my universe by writing down a list of where I leave things, such as ” Stay in Beirut: sequined leggings in Uzbekistan, 10kg Persian poetry collection by Isfahan dude, bowls in Ethiopia, strawberry-patterned socks in Sarajevo, “rainbow dress” in a Cambodian supermarket, and more.

But when the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, it was no longer easy for me to avoid stressing my life by staying physically active. With my former world in lockdown, a 12-day stay in the Mexican coastal village of Zipolite became a month, six months, and a year. Still, I firmly reject any suggestion that I’m effectively “living” there now.

Instead of taking this opportunity to mentally organize myself – trying to live one life in one place, rather than countless parallel lives in different regions – my solution was to decentralize in place. Swinging around in Zipolit’s hammock, my mind would wander at high speed among the memories of other cities and countries, as if I was in some kind of competition that didn’t live in the present.

There is also a great deal of physical dispersal as I continue to accumulate material possessions that I cannot transfer to others. Thanks to the internet, I hoarded all sorts of inexplicable and unnecessary items — an act I guiltily classify as “coronavirus capitalism” — like three pairs of high heels. Although I can’t even walk in heels, and at Zipolite I usually don’t use footwear at all.

Every morning I watch with admiration as the inhabitants of the village do their sweeping and raking of everything that might have been swept or raked: houses, yards, streets, beaches, dirt. I started stocking up on brooms and other gear in the hope that one day I could start such a seemingly therapeutic routine myself, but it’s still stuck in fantasy territory, and the brooms are just dusty.

It seems that the only routine I can maintain is mass chaos – which I pursue almost as an art form. Every surface of my house is littered with notebooks, pens, swimsuits, clothes I never wear because I’ve been wearing swimsuits, empty wine bottles, masks, Mexican pesos, jalapenos, scraps of paper in lowercase letters reminding myself to clean, Mosquito rackets, plastic bags, an empty box I labelled “plastic bags” in preparation for the upcoming organization, and an oversized stuffed pig I rescued from attempted disposal by my neighbors.

Then there’s the ubiquitous dirt and sand that I’ve not only tracked from the beach, but entered on my own – because the windows have to be open all year round to avoid choking on the heat.

As terrifying as the whole scene is, there are some convincing challenges of remembering which pile of running shorts my tweezers are under, or which plastic bag hides my Sri Lankan insect bite medicine.

To be sure, this confusion also ignores the prospect of permanence that I find so terrifying.

But eventually, it became unsustainable, especially when I started traveling again – first short trips within Mexico, then two-month excursions to Turkey and Albania. Suitcases and duffel bags open on the floor each time you return to Zipolite, adding to the already substantial barrier to going to the bathroom in the middle of the night and giving Scorpions a more attractive option for accommodation.

Chaos started to eat me up, and as I sat on the couch, sandwiched between Turkish tea bags, sunglasses, aprons, electronics and the plastic shelves I ordered, trying to write my latest book, I felt like I was in a kind of overrun. The increasingly painful situation is coming from the internet, but not yet assembled. As usual, everything including me was covered in a layer of sand.

I spend less and less time writing and more time worrying about what all this chaos means psychologically. A cursory Google search yielded predictable headlines like “How the environment we create reflects our mindset,” “The psychology of space: What does your home say about you?” your thoughts”.

My house is me, I tell myself: the outside is more patchwork, the inside is a disaster. However, I still can’t get myself clean as it’s impossible to know where to start.

I didn’t wake up at 4:30 one morning and start sweeping until not one but two friends threatened to tie me up somewhere and clean the house for me – frantically at first because I never seemed to be In chaos, then in gentler fashion, as sand and dirt submissively gather in manageable mounds.

I still have a long way to go – I doubt I’ll ever get to the point of making a bed – but at least that’s where the conversation starts.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial position.

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