Monday, December 13, 2010

Becoming a grown-up is disconcerting.

Note: What you're about to read is part of a writing project I'm working on outside of this blog.  But, since it concerns me and it concerns Austin, I thought I'd share part of it with you.  I vacillate on how much of this blog I want to dedicate to local happenings, and how much of it I want to dedicate to personal writing practice, but since you guys seem to be happy with both (I think), today I'm dishing up some of the latter.

I hope you enjoy!

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Something is rotten in the state of Austin, Texas.

In a city that adores its messy youth, its sweaty guitarists and unshaven baristas, a 28 year-old girl is having the time of her life.  Dusting.

And that 28 year-old girl is me.

It hasn’t always been this way.  Once, I was messy too.  I’ve long viewed chores as a necessary evil. Laundry, for example, is a hurdle I simply never may cross.  I will put it off and put if off, until that one really sad moment, when I am close to tears in the middle of the heap, searching frantically for that one damn shirt.  A shirt that has already been worn several times.   I’m long past caring about said garment’s equivalent of an expiration date, but usually in these moments, nothing else is clean except for a sports bra and an old bridesmaid’s dress.  And folks, that combo simply won’t cut it for a trip to H-E-B.

I’ve reduced myself to this state so many times, forcing myself into the least-dirty outfit I happen to have on-hand (on-floor, rather), that I’ve begun to suspect it’s not accidental.  Not at all.

When I refuse to do the laundry, I believe it’s actually my way of proving to myself that I’m still young and irresponsible.   Like, look: I still make poor choices!  Maybe I’ll leave the cap off the toothpaste bottle next!   It’s not quite a cocaine addiction, but it’s something.

And yet. Some troubling incidents have given me pause.

Lately, I’ve been volunteering to vacuum clean.

In the past, I would try to pawn off this task on Ross through flattery, reminding him how good he is at scaring the cat with the vacuum cleaner.

“Here, I’ll shut all the doors in this room while she’s inside, and then you’ll come in and do all the cleaning,” I explain.

“And then when you’re all done, and only when you’re all done, we’ll watch her run away from the vacuum cleaner and it’ll be so funny!”

Ross would go along with it, but only out of pity.  Who wouldn't feel sorry for the inventor of that flimsy ruse?

Now, I can’t wait to clean the carpet.  I feel a holy satisfaction in the neat tracks the machine creates.  Before, I used to give a whole room a quick once-over, see a gigantic roach carcass in an impossible-to-reach corner, and whistle, “oh well!” before skipping off to watch reality television.   Last week, after spying a roach carcass (perhaps the same one from a year ago?), I actually turned off the vacuum cleaner, walked over to the closet, found the special attachment with the satisfyingly tiny nozzle, fastened it to the machine, sucked up the carcass, detached, put the attachment back in the closet, and continued with my room, just like a responsible person would do.  As if it were the most natural thing.  As if the Hoover Steam Vac Floor Attachment and I were old friends.

But vacuuming isn’t the only change.  When my mother phoned me the other day, I was having a moment with a can of Pledge.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

Dusting!!” I cried.  I might as well have said, “ice skating!!”   Meaning, the level of enthusiasm did not quite match the stated activity.

And here again, I’m left with questions.  Namely: Do all young Austinites experience an existential crisis when they learn they love to clean?

When I was in grad school in my early 20s, I was amused by the Truman Show level of lawn perfection in Davis, California.   Not a blade of grass out of place.   And in those lawns, children.  Good God, the children.  Children who always wore their bicycle helmet, children chased by the silkiest of golden retrievers, children inculcated into a very safe world of Dora the Explorer and organic milk.  It was the cleanest place I had ever seen outside of Switzerland, and for a time, I shucked off everything Texan in me and traded my motorist ways for a bicycle. I, too, joined the healthy, happy masses of Davis, California, going to the farmer’s market and proudly, aggressively not-polluting.

But deep down inside, I missed the mess of Austin.

It’s important to identify some key municipal forces here. Austin is a bit of a never-never land, where homeless transvestites can run for mayor with the best of ‘em. But more intriguingly, the city – much like its youth – encourages a little bit of unkemptness.

Proof: When a friend visiting me from California a couple of years ago, he pointed out our sidewalks.

“What exactly are we walking on, here?” he asked, stepping over a pile of rubble.

“This is a sidewalk,” I said.

“This would never happen in Sacramento,” he remarked.  And I had to agree, it wouldn’t.  I’ve seen Sacramento’s sidewalks, and they look great.  Austin’s look ok in places, too.  But could I walk to Sixth Street right now, and kick off a little piece of the Sixth/Brazos intersection with my foot?   Yes.  I’m confident I could do that.

When it comes to cultural markers, Texas in general is a contradiction in terms.  Is it the South?  Or is it the Wild West?  No one is sure.  Are we belles, or are we outlaws?  One thing is certain: We are a proud, viciously proud people.  Texas is the largest cult in the greater United States.  Have you ever seen more paraphernalia for a collective identity?  I doubt that you have.  Our cool shape is part of it, practically begging to be embroidered onto pillows.  But I also think Texans are bound by a “we’re all in this together” sort of limbo, where we’re not 100% clear on our heritage, but we know we have a heritage, dammit.  And by God we’re going to celebrate it.  Remember the Alamo!

And then … Austin.  Austin, to me, always seemed more lax in its Texas-ness, more embracing of a “live and let live” type of lifestyle, a town where I could be at peace with my sloppy, dirty-dishes-left-carelessly-in-the-sink ways.  It never occurred to me that, one day, I would be in the shower by myself, and use hair conditioning time not to relax and enjoy myself, but to manically scrub soap scum off the insides of the tub.

Who else would do that but a grown-up?

And then I realized: Like it or not, that’s what I am becoming.  A boring ass grown-up.

When twentysomethings – not just Austinites, but perhaps Brooklynites, Seattleites, the youth of Springfield, Missouri – realize they enjoy the responsible tasks they used to despise, when the eyes cease rolling in their sockets, when the groans catch in their throats, it is a deeply conflicting time.  We know it’s a slippery slope to 401k’s.  A mortgage.  A subscription to Consumer Reports.  What we don’t know is what awaits around the corner.  It could be a spouse, but it could also be orthopedic shoes.  There’s just no telling.

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Note: I'm going to end this post here since it's getting a little long, but the whole thing goes on for a bit more.  If you want more then I'll post it, if not, thank you for reading!


Lela said...

Heh. Two weeks ago, I went into H-E-B and bought this swifter mop that had a spray bottle attached so I could clean our kitchen floor (we have white tiling and every time you walk on it, smudges appear) more often. I came home with it, and was showing it to Tom. He looked at me with a "she's a little too enthusiastic about this plastic thingy" look on his face. It happens to the best of us.

Nicole Mlakar-Livingston said...

I'm 33 and still fighting this whole grown-up thing. It doesn't feel like me but it's a necessary evil I suppose. Keep posting!

Breanna said...

What does it mean that I've ALWAYS enjoyed cleaning, like, since I was a child? And maybe even MORE now that I'm 30? Seriously, I will look at a neat and tidy room with a level of admiration most people reserve only for their children. But I don't have children, so...

Love this post. We should talk about the writing project. Perhaps over drinks that contain alcohol. Because grown-ups do THAT too.

Sophie Neutron said...

I try to use the "once a Punk, always a Punk" defence for my not completely laundered clothes and general doesn't really work, but everyone tries to make me believe it does.

Growing up 'rhymes with shucks' but I don't think anyone ever completely grows up (and I'll keep telling myself that too) said...

I love this post and I hope that you post more like it on your blog. Not because it's about cleaning or growing up (although I am guilty of doing the same thing this weekend. In fact, I spent all of Sunday organizing the dreaded make-up, toothpaste, medicine, cabinet drawer into neat little bags and showing my man with a bright smile) but because of it's not all showstopping headlines.

Somehow, it's . . . more grown up.

Austin Eavesdropper said...

@Lela - I think we need to take a moment and appreciate the mop WITH spray bottle attached! Because that is genius. Boys bedamned: We'll relish our clean white kitchen floors.

@Nicole: Haha. It's funny, you know ... in some ways I look at myself and think: "Well it's about TIME!" All those dirty dishes someone else cleaned for me, all the thank-you cards never mailed (or even written).

But it's a bizarre chapter, and I think that's why twentysomethings have an amplified nostalgia for their "youth," whatever that is, when they turn 30. Did you feel the same way on your 30th?

I think our city (and our culture at large) has some youth-worship issues that encourage these kinds of thoughts. And it's totally working on me.

@Breanna - I think I've always known that about you. Always a tidy (and well-lit) office. Yes to drinks: you name the time and the place, little lady.

@Sophie -- That is the phrase I shall to use, now, when proudly assessing my mounds of laundry. :)

@ColoursMarie -- Hey there pretty thing. Thank you for the encouragement! Maybe I will post more stuff like this, then. I'm trying to write longer form stuff (offline, I mean) just to develop my essay skills a little more. It's tough to sustain a topic or even a loose set of observations for more than a few pages -- but this piece is now on the 4th page, so, success. :)

pinksundrops said...

I've been wondering lately what's going to happen when we're not Austin's twenty-somethings anymore. I'm glad you're broaching the subject.

kellynD said...

I freaking love this post. I'm only 22 but I'm starting to see my adulthood looming in the distance...and I'm quite frightened of growing up. Does that mean no more "when I grow up, I want to be..." wishes?! No more ignoring authority or skipping out on work for a fun-filled adventure day?! I'm glad to see I'm not the only one in this boat!

Ana said...

I think you are just realizing that you can think more clearly and get more things done when your environment is clean and pretty...and that realization comes with age. I am in the process of Goodwill-ing everything I don't
need. And now it's super easy to clean my room!

Jackie said...

I totally get the growing up phase. My boyfriend and I moved in together when we were 18/19 so I think we kind of grew up quicker. We were never rebellious teenagers so I feel like we've always been a few years ahead of ourselves. I constantly tell myself, "You're 23, it's okay that nothing is done and that you've spent too much time watchiing Bravo..and if this is worst of your rebelling, then it's a blessing to most." Sometimes it causes conflict but I like even the tiniest bit of rebelling because it just reminds me that I shouldn't rush the process of growing up...because it actually sucks.

Anonymous said...

Love it! More please!