good lord, he burned the hoard

My dad, the HP-Pastor-Santa Claus, had been out of touch until just before Thanksgiving. We tried to arrange to skype but it became too difficult for him. He finally just emailed me the story he so desperately wanted to share.

Oh yes, one more thing . . . I need to tell you that I almost burned down the house Tuesday morning. I went outside to fuel the furnace and in doing so, I dumped the ashes on the pile. About an hour later I looked outside and there was a huge fire under the patio. The hot coals had caught the leaves on fire and it expanded in two directions. One toward the patio and the other to the west side of the house. From there it caught the pile of junk I had stacked there (for maybe ten years or more) and caught it on fire. There were shotgun shells exploding and the fire was extremely threatening. I screamed “Fire” and the kids came a running to help at 5:50 am. Fortunately, a man stopped to help and called the fire department. By the time they got here we almost had it put out. Yeah! They watered down the pile of junk and then left. That’s one way to get rid of my hoarding crud! LOL!

It’s a fine example of his storytelling prowess: he saves the dramatic story for the end of an email as if he had almost forgotten, he recognizes he has hoarded junk… never mind that people could have been killed by shotgun shells blasting. But there is no account of what “junk” was lost that was so important to keep in a pile outside of the house in the first place. There is no acknowledgment of cleanup efforts or how he might avoid such trouble in the future. I can only expect that next time the local newspaper will be telling the story of his demise.

foreign currency

IMG_0789We are getting ready for a trip to the US and Canada. I haven’t been to North America since the 2012-2013 New Year. So in preparation, I had to sort through my very organised box of foreign currency. Oddly, however, this handful of coins now seems exotic to me.

I never lose anything, except when I do

IMG_0796Yesterday to celebrate New Years, I took S. to see a movie. On our way there, I did my habitual reach towards the necklace D. recently bought me and there was nothing there. I had a sick feeling in my stomach. I remembered seeing the necklace the day before on the vanity in the bathroom. But yesterday morning I had zealously cleaned and had thrown everything into the sink so I could clear the countertop. Had it gone down the drain?

I couldn’t do anything until I got home, at which time I drove D. and S. crazy as I mentally envisioned everything I had done since I last saw it. I remembered holding it, examining it, and especially seeing it on the counter. I went to the bathroom and began tearing everything apart – even finding things I had long forgotten and knowing I had not seen them recently. I found another necklace I do not even remember receiving.

I proceeded to take apart the pipes under the sink – nothing but a nice clog cleared. And then I remembered that in the morning, the rug on the bathroom floor had been rumpled up like the cats had been digging around. In Australia we have floor drains and that drain is usually covered by the bath mat. My only hope was that the cats had been playing with the necklace and dropped it down the drain – and that my cleaning fury had not washed it away.

IMG_0798I opened up the drain, used tongs to blindly dip into the murky water at the bottom and after about four fruitless scoops, up came the necklace. I am nothing if not determined when I have lost something – especially something I love.

hoard sorter

Chained to my computer today while I revise an article under a tight deadline and desperate for distractions, I just had an epiphany about my research. I have been working on the concept of hoarded memory of the Algerian War for a few years already and I’ve been overwhelmed with the sheer volume of testimonial and pictorial debris I have to sift through. Often it is one author who produces an excessive number of volumes about his or her past.

Why does it only occur to me now that I have been trained for this my whole life? I am trying to make sense out of that layered, piled up story of a traumatic past, just like I have always been sifting through my dad’s stuff to reorder it, to pare it down, to make it accessible to those who live with him. There is some good stuff in his metaphorical curio cabinet, but it is getting destroyed and obscured as more is layered upon it.

digitizing memories

1993 for hoarding memory

A couple of months ago, I thought it would be smart to buy a very cheap printer/scanner to be able to print out a few pictures here and there for S. who is having an increasing number of school projects. The machine is total crap, but it is allowing me at least start on one project I’ve put off for many years.

I began journalling at the age of 10 with very insightful entries like “Dear Diary, Today I went to school.” I still have that journal. In the back of my mind, I always thought one day it might help my child to have my journals so they could know whatever they are going through is not so unknown. That was pretty presumptive on my part. S. would probably read my journals and say, “OMG TMI!”

In any case, I moved all of these notebooks here to Australia and I’ve decided that I might be able to digitize them. I’m glancing at pages here and there and sort of cracking up at my 1993 version of myself: very religious, very dramatic, very in love with my first serious boyfriend at university. I should dump the journals completely, but for some reason I can’t let go. Those notebooks were sometimes a lifeline to me. Writing has always helped me untangle very complicated and painful knots and has offered solace when there was none from the humans in my life. Sometimes I think I should publish them as a journey, but no one would want to read the thousands of pages of crap about my daily life – not even me, really. So here the pages go, into the computer, one by one, to maybe never come out again. At least another shelf will be clear.

tidying up

I’m a terrible digital hoarder. I had something ridiculous like 6000 unread messages in my inbox until last month. This was mostly spam or things I had read that I wanted to go back to, or things I had just forgotten to look at. I have known for quite some time that the organisational system I adopted when I started working in Australia was not working at all. I could not trick myself into going back to the so-called new messages because I knew I had already read them. So they accumulated. Before school started this semester, I spent a few hours and deleted all but 3. Now I’m back up to about 8, but I know what is in there. On the other hand, I have more than 16,000 messages in my inbox.

Somehow digital hoarding is not something I can overcome. My computer has so many files on it, even from my student years, that I feel I may someday need with urgency. They have come in handy when giving talks about now defunct websites that deal with memory or in dredging up old teaching materials, but honestly, most just lie there dormant cluttering up my hard drive. They are innocuous because I do not see them, they do not hinder me from moving about, and my computer behaves as if unfettered by their weight. But I think the burden of that endless archive may catch up with me and entrap me like a snowball gaining momentum on its downhill journey.

be there

My guilty pleasure is watching Real Housewives of Anywhere, no matter how trashy or how silly the show is. I do not watch television to edify myself.

And so this morning I was thinking about ashy feet and how nice Kandi Burruss‘s skin is, and how she’s my favorite housewife of Atlanta. She’s short, smart, and ambitious. But I thought, “I can’t understand how she defends her mother.” She broke down in tears a week or so ago when confronted by her best friend and boyfriend. She defended her mother saying how she knew her mom would always be there for her. Obviously I can only speculate based on the show, but I thought, “But she’s not there for you, Kandi. She’s ripping you away from the people you love.” (Yes, I have really deep thoughts in the shower.)

Then it sort of struck me: I always have said that if I got into trouble, my father would be there for me. And yet, I have no evidence that he would be there for me. He has not been there for me. He even made up excuses not to attend my high school functions. He does not support me emotionally and has not supported me financially since I turned 18. Right before we moved to Australia, I asked him if he would be willing to send me things like over the counter medicine if I needed them, and I offered to pay him through PayPal. He blatantly said he thought that was not a good idea. Why would I think he would be there for me?

Do any of you have a Hoarding Parent who is truly there for you when you need something? I am thankful I have never honestly needed something from either of my parents, though it would be comforting to have emotional encouragement from either mom or dad without me asking or admitting I need it.

scraps

It’s fall trash pickup time here in Brisbane and we have been sorting items we want to discard. We put a bicycle and a stroller out to the curb and both were snatched up almost immediately by one of the many roving trucks that make daily trips through the neighborhood looking for treasures. Some houses have massive piles of junk out front that have been well picked over and look like a junk yard. 

Yesterday I cycled into work and past the hoarding house I keep my eye on. Sadly I recognized all sorts of new junk piled in the front of the yard and onto the back of two trucks. I have watched this house for the past two years and I know that these items are not going away to good use any time soon. Children’s toys and plastic garden chairs topped off the mounds.

ImageAt least in our house some purging is happening. We scrapped an old barbecue, we’re giving away the bike trailer S. used to ride in, and I’ve been putting our old t-shirts to good use. I’m making D. his own rug. So far it contains seven tees, with number eight balled up on top. 

Image

yard sale hidden treasures

yard sale hidden treasures

From Zynga with love to the hoarder. This can have no good outcome.

help

While not able to fall asleep last night, my mind raced through details trying to calm itself. I wondered if my upcoming counseling appointment is perhaps weighing more heavily on me than I thought. There is a fairly large sense of guilt looming over me for not being able to manage things by myself. Objectively I see counseling as an intelligent activity: there are experts to help with that. But personally, it falls in the same sort of shameful indulgence as having a cleaner come do my house. I just can’t permit it though I do not judge those who do. In fact, I envy them. 

So I wondered why I feel such shame in asking for help. I should be able to manage my own house and my own emotions. But the reality is sometimes otherwise. It’s just hard to stay on top of it all.

And then I wondered if perhaps my parents shamed me for asking for help at some point. My mom and dad went to a counsellor named Sheldon, I think, when I was ten or twelve and they were beginning to separate. My brother and I saw him once. He asked us what we thought was wrong or what we thought might help them. My clear childlike answer was “Money.” They were financially wrecked and we bore the aftermath of that for years. I expect they set the example for me: they dug themselves out of that mess without declaring bankruptcy.

I will ask for help sometimes. I have been known to ask a bus driver for help finding my stop. I will occasionally ask for advice from someone I deeply trust or about something that seems inconsequential like, “what types of birthday presents are appropriate for 4 year olds?” At work I have no trouble asking questions about policy and formality. But if I am stuck in any situation I perceive I have put myself into and there is anything remotely shameful about it (i.e. I’m lost), I feel it is my own responsibility to bail myself out or suffer the consequences. Asking for help is hard. Very very hard. And when I do ask for help, if I sense I won’t get it, I quickly retract my request. “Fine, I’ll handle it.” I will whinge but I will get it straightened out eventually. That’s not very efficient, but it has required me to be resourceful.

Back to the situation at hand, though, I wonder if other COH (Children of Hoarders) have this same problem. How hard is it for you to ask for help? Did our parents, especially the narcissistic ones, teach us not to ask? I’d rather chew off my own arm than ask my father (HP) help me get out of any situation. He would probably be only too happy to help me — well maybe, he might also knock me over the head for it — but I would never hear the end of it. “Look what I did for you!”