"When I Had No Mother, I Embraced Order"
By Wendy Bourgeois
“When I had no mother, I embraced order.” —Robert Pinsky
But my house is clean. Really clean right now, because I’m having a party and avoiding scheduling a mammogram. Because somehow I still believe, against all evidence to the contrary, that if Social Services or cancer were to stop by one day unannounced, they would take one look at the perfect fan of Tin House magazines on my coffee table and know that I was an excellent human being and that no further investigation or karma would be necessary. Pinsky’s line makes me feel a little chastised, and maybe that’s why I like it so much. It makes me feel mothered.
Growing up in the seventies was wicked fun, mostly because my mom and everybody else’s moms were too busy smoking pot and committing adultery to attempt anything resembling authoritarian parenting. But the experiment of permissiveness has had some far reaching after effects. The current model of Attachment Theory in psychology seems to suggest that both slovenliness and clean-freakishness result from poor, or “disorganized” attachment This explains, I think, the popularity of TLC shows like Hoarders and My Strange Addiction. Some of us embrace order, and some of us throw spectacular tantrums to get the attention we missed when we were six.
Most of us probably embrace it sporadically, with saintly habits in one or two areas and varying degrees of disarray in the rest. I have a close friend since childhood who has pristine white carpet and three sons under the age of ten. She quit drinking recently, mostly because the wine stains were making her crazy. Some of us eat nothing but “clean food” while our taxes go unpaid. Some of us make our beds daily with hospital corners yet wear the same shirt for three days straight. I do a passable job managing people and relationships, but the stuff of the world, especially abstract stuff like “money” and “career,” remain uncrossed from my to-do list for longer and longer periods as I get older.
It would be so awesome if some nice lady with a camera crew came over and lectured me on the virtues of multi-colored file folders, because I, like everyone else, would prefer to have a mother than be one to myself. I get it that having your shit together is actually more comfy and snuggly in the long run than chaos, in the same way that sitting up straight will eventually hurt your back less than if you slouch, but my actual, non-idealized mother created mess and excitement everywhere she went, though she had excellent posture. She wouldn’t know a multi-colored file folder if it waltzed over and sang “Gold Dust Woman,” so what chance do I have?
Wendy Bourgeois is a poet and writer. In September she wrote about David Rakoff’s Love Dishonor Marry Die Cherish Perish.