Monday, May 28, 2007


The ability to 'compartmentalize' is often touted as a Good Thing. You should already be suspicious about the bona fides of that claim, because, lord god, how ugly is that word. If you have to -izeify a perfectly ordinary noun having nothing to do with the glittering, spectacular garbage heap of lost treasures and crucial detritus that is the interior human experience in order to describe that experience --- or even worse, in order to say how one ought to handle that experience --- you should wonder why. I have a certain sympathy for the thought that it's a Good Idea to distance one's feelings about one's professional performance from one's sense of oneself or one's belief in oneself as a desirable partner or whatever. But seriously? Who the hell actually does this? Does it really help? Or does the effort of doing it basically amount to whatever grief you would have gotten from letting all your shit bleed into your other shit in the first place? I am not sold, people. I do not buy it.

Still, I'm struck by the sense that I am made up of parts. Not in the boring and straightforward sense of having many different, conflicting aspects of myself, but real parts -- modular pieces which attach to one another with special grabs and clips and quick-release snaps like on a backpack designed to appeal to those with a fetish for the 'technical' in technical gear.

Once upon a time, I had a certain interest in these pieces, and their tendency to spring apart or rearrange themselves at inopportune moments when you would go looking for your ambition and find it gone, or possibly it's gone and clipped itself to something else that's hanging out in my head while I wasn't looking.

So I'd go looking. Or I'd idly rearrange the pieces, making soft mental hmmm ... and uh huh ... noises.

When you're in the right frame of mind, you can fondly call this navel gazing. But when the metaphor is not a metaphor at all and you are really coming apart, it is like stepping on something soft and squishy in the dark and finding it is somehow painful into the bargain. And then doing taking another step and ...

Oh, lord. So boring.

I like the outside much better. Rain, rain, go away ... I need something else to say.


Heidi the Hick said...

This may not be even remotely what you meant, but...

a little over 2 years ago I really was coming apart, and really honestly felt that pieces of me were separating. I did have to compartmentalize everything just to get through a day. Kind of like, I'll use this part of me to leave the house and then later this part of me can cry about it, or this part can go numb for a while. You spoke of pieces coming apart and rearranging-- they don't all fit together the way they did and I don't think I'll ever be the same. I think I'm permanently rearranged.

Not that that's a bad thing.

I still have a hard time describing it. I'm actually trying to forget now because I got very tired of it and want to just live and not have to break everything down like that.

See? Years later, still struggling to sort through all the compartments (often frightened to peek inside and see what's there) and then you come up with THIS:

the glittering, spectacular garbage heap of lost treasures and crucial detritus that is the interior human experience

and I bow to the metaphor goddess.

In any case, I think trying to separate yourself from what you do is kind of useless. I don't mean that we are what we do but we put ourselves into it, don't we? Into our little box labelled "Identity" and I'm having a bit of a metaphor breakdown right now because I just had a mental image of "Me as a Series of Small Boxes" and you wouldn't believe how tiny the one for my pinkie fingernail is.

Dude, I will be stewing over this post all day. By tomorrow I might get it!!!

Xtin said...

Heidi, that is not at all remote from what I meant. It *is* what I meant. Things have been worse than this -- the fact that I'm even writing on my blog is proof of that. But things are ... pretty fucking damn difficult, really.

Thanks for your kindly bow to my metaphor! But you know:

... I got very tired of it and want to just live and not have to break everything down like that.

This. This this this. This says absolutely everything I need to say. To hell with the metaphors. I just want to live my damn life and not think about all the boxes. Even the tiny one for my pinkie. And even though I have a total box fetish.

Scrivener said...

I had a period like this too, but in the more distant past and I was much younger so in some ways it was perhaps easier and it was certainly less thoughtful (intellectual? abstracted?). There were a couple of years in high school where I was in serious crisis and I very much had this sense that everyone around me was an organic being--they just were who they were and they went around being who they were--but I was made up of a mass of pieces of identity and it took an inordinate level of concentration simply to move and act as if I were a living thing instead of this complex machine.

The thing that reading this post and trying to write this response makes me realize is that I almost always end up phrasing this in pretty positive terms to myself and others. Because I did come out the other side with some really powerful ideas. I figured out that I could hold it together simply with willpower if I needed to, and I figured out that it was possible to rearrange those aspects of myself. It seemed like so many of the people around me later on thought of themselves, when they thought of themselves at all, as if they were simply givens, they didn't recognize the power they had to shape their own lives, whereas I understood pretty early on that I could decide who I wanted to be and just be that. I mean that on a larger level but also about small things. I was a really picky eater all the way through high school, and then I just decided that whether I liked a certain food or not was simply another compartment and that I could decide how that piece should function, so I just sat down and ate foods that I had always hated and said to myself, "why not just call this flavor yummy instead of gross?" And I did.

OK, I got off a bit on a tangent there. My point was to say that I do usually describe that period in pretty positive terms, but in fact that period was absolutely terrible and devastating too, and oh God do I know what you mean you say "I just want to live my damn life and not think about all the boxes."

Of course, our chosen profession makes all of this worse. (I can stil call it "our" profession? You won't call me on that one, right?) There is no getting away from the thinking and the analyzing when you do what we do. I think there are jobs in the world where you can separate who you are from what you do, some jobs where you can do that fairly easily. Maybe I'm wrong, though. Maybe when people who are the way we are do those jobs we find them all-encompassing too? I can't say with any certainty as too much time has elapsed for me. But I do remember having jobs that seemed very much separate from myself.

The trade-off, of course, is that our jobs allow us to think about anything and everything, and to decide to bring about change.

maloken said...

Xtin, I wasn't sure if I wanted to read all through your eloquent post. It hit too close to home.
I, too, have to *-ize to get through the day.

The energy of building those mental bulkheads subtracts more from wholeness, than the comparments themselves, I think. You said it with gem-like simplicity: "the glittering, spectacular garbage heap of lost treasures and crucial detritus that is the interior human experience." (Reminds me a bit of Hopkins' poem on life as a heraclitean fire, btw)
Thanks for the post.
(tt wonder dog)

Scrivener said...

Oy. I'm really not such a shiny happy person as I sometimes seem to be when I try to comment on the blogs. Sorry if I seem annoyingly optimistic, because I know how shitty it can be to listen to shiny happy people when you're feeling like that.

Xtin said...

WD! So lovely to see you. And thank you for your lovely thoughts. And having something I wrote remind you of Hopkins? That's nice. I mean, really nice.

Scriv, you didn't come across as shiny-happy at all, and you're so right to think I'm hating that at the moment. I really appreciate your thoughts -- it seemed to me not that you were saying I should see going through this as positive, but that it can have all sorts of positive effects on the other side that we know not (yet) of.

And of course you still get to call it "our" profession. :)

I might only call you on claiming that it's still mine!