Thursday, June 9, 2011

In which the mess is everyone else's fault.

My apartment tends to exist in a constant state of messiness.

Every time I try to figure out why the domicile can't stay out of pig-sty zone for more than a day at a time, I can only come up with one answer. It's not "my" apartment after all. It's "ours".

There are, in fact, six of us currently living in my tiny little flat. Six college-aged girls: three in school, two with boyfriends, all with jobs. We're all far too busy to clean up anyone's messes but our own. And whenever anything is messy, it is definitely anyone's mess but my own.

Crumbs all over the counter? Well, I'm always careful when I eat, so they couldn't possibly be mine. Let the perpetrator wipe them up
Dishes in the sink? Why can't those silly roommates of mine take the time to wash their cereal bowls?
Trash needs to be taken out? I can't believe they'd let it overflow like that!

Notice a pattern? Nothing is ever, ever my fault. And I have a feeling everyone else in my apartment thinks the same way. If I dirty something, I usually clean it up (though I have a pile of dishes in the sink that would say otherwise...) but if I didn't dirty, I'm not going to touch it. Not my problem.

But the thing is, it becomes my problem. Because I still have to live in the apartment. So what does me more good, to live in the dirt and mess, silently fuming at my roommates  or to take a few minutes and wipe down the counter, wash the dishes, or take out the trash? By only taking ownership of my mess, only my mess gets cleaned up. But if I claim ownership of the apartment (it's now both "our" apartment and "my" apartment), then everyone's mess is also my mess, and I'm responsible to clean it up.

On the other hand, I can't afford to take complete ownership of the mess. I work two jobs, I have a boyfriend to hang out with, and I'm trying to get ready to leave for Europe next week. With the amount of clutter and messiness this apartment generates, I could easily spend hours a day cleaning up. It's simply not feasible for me to be the only one taking complete ownership. However, if everybody in the apartment took full and complete ownership, saw every mess as our mess instead of their mess, and acted accordingly? Well, we'd have a pretty clean apartment, wouldn't we?

Now for the reflective part: does this apply elsewhere? I'd say...yeah, why not? I think all friendships, relationships, and marriages could benefit from this complete-responsibility approach. Otherwise, the relationship feels too much like a balancing act, each member carefully keeping tally to make sure everybody's putting in the same amount of effort. How about...international relations? Each nation takes care of its own messes, and then helps out other countries as much as possible. Sometimes though, one nation (like perhaps...the U.S.) has far more resources and/or inclination to clean up other nation's messes, and becomes that one roommate who's always home doing all the dishes. Which works great, until that roommate starts to get angry that she's doing everyone else's dishes all the time. Or until she starts neglecting cleaning her room in favor of making the living room presentable for everyone. And we haven't even touched the issue of fostering personal responsibility. Does cleaning up after others actually hurt them by crippling their ability to take care of themselves?

The conclusion I keep coming to is that this only works when every party takes complete ownership of the situation, whether it's an apartment, a marriage, or a planet. Some will necessarily put in more resources or time than others, simply because they have more to give. But when everyone has total ownership, there's no score-keeping, no grumbling, and no holding back. The mess isn't everyone else's. It's everybody's.

Which reminds me, my room is messy. Off to clean more...

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

In which I go to a movie by myself

I had never seen Casablanca before. And well, to say I'd heard it was good would be grossly understating the matter. More like, oh, one of the greatest movies ever made? So when I heard it was playing on campus today, I went. Even though I had important things to do. Even though I couldn't find anyone to go with me.

And...I'm still not sure what to say about it. I was enthralled the whole time. I fell in love with Rick. The ending was immensely satisfying.  But I'll be honest, Ilsa really, really bothered me. "Do the thinking for both of us, Rick!" Really? Really though?

I think the part that really bugged me about Ilsa was how much I related to her (minus the whole marital infidelity thing). I know what it's like to get so lost in your emotions that you can't think straight. To want to stop trying to figure things out and just collapse into tears while others fix your problems for you. And I've definitely been guilty of that on multiple occasions. But I'm really, really trying to overcome that and take responsibility for my own issues. So while I empathized with Ilsa, most of me wanted to give her a good slap and say, "Buck up, girl. Everyone has problems. Don't try to say you don't know what's right, because you do know. Now stop being a baby, stop trying to let everyone else think for you, and be an adult."

I guess the fact that I relate to and understand this character so strongly is probably evidence of the power of this film. And I will again admit that I have developed a big-time crush on Humphrey Bogart (you don't mind, do you, Mike?)

Ah, Humphrey...I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Letter

To the Ants I Killed Yesterday,

I was only doing my job. You have to understand that up front. I have to keep that bathroom clean for the students who use it, and a small colony of insects living underneath the urinals is not traditionally the sign of a hygienic bathroom. I'll admit, I'm still not sure why it was so important I got rid of you. Your kind doesn't traditionally carry diseases, and none of you were stealing any food or really, doing anyone any harm as far as I could see. You're all black ants, so probably not the biting type. But, like the dirt in the corners and the soap scum on the counters, you look dirty, and are unwelcome in a modern, clean restroom.

And so I sprayed your corner with poison.

Did it hurt? Did you scream? Did you die instantly or did you suffer and struggle first? Did some of you run frantically, looking for loved ones, hoping they'd survived?

Do ants love? Do they have families? Were the stragglers all alone and desolate, having lost their friends?

Or is your colony all one consciousness, with the queen still safely inside the walls, having only suffered the loss of a few mindless appendages?

In other words, was this a tragedy that befell a community, or an injury inflicted on a single organism?

I do not apologize to you. Given the choice, I would repeat my action. But still, I hope desperately that there isn't a giant somewhere who will someday say over my shattered planet,

"I was only doing my job....I have to keep this galaxy clean for the gods that use it, and a small cluster of humans orbiting a star is not traditionally the sign of a hygienic solar system."