I start to walk up the stairs and see a sock on the fourth step from the bottom. I can’t tell if it’s clean or dirty, so I’m just going to assume it’s dirty. I could walk past it, just like every other member of my family would. That just means that I would have to pick it up later. I could pick it up now, but that would mean that I’m compliant in taking on more emotional and domestic labor than the other members of my family.
After a while I realize that it’s taken me more time to decide whether or not to pick up the sock than it actually takes to pick up the sock.
I still cannot decide what to do. So I pick up the sock. In my head. Because at this point, I’m frozen to do anything more than just stare at the sock, petrified. I’ve somehow created a mental block between myself and the sock and while I know I should pick it up at this point, I have to will my body to go through those motions.
"I do the work without having anything to show for it. I do the work without really doing any physical work. It’s absolutely exhausting."
When I was in college, a friend introduced me to the movie The Science of Sleep. It became an instant favorite. The cinematography is magical, the cast is superb, the story is endearing.
There is a scene where Gael García Bernal’s character Stéphane wakes up after a night of dreams and scoffs at the expectation that he needs to go to work. He explains how he is so exhausted having spent the entire night dreaming of work. He has already put in the work.
That’s how nearly every action feels. I spend so much time thinking of how I’ll do it, what I’ll say, what the possible outcomes could be. I do the work without having anything to show for it. I do the work without really doing any physical work. It’s absolutely exhausting.
I remember standing in my room as a kid and needing to clean up. I would just mentally choose an object and stare at it. I’d will it with my mind to put itself away. I wish I could say that I was trying to develop the powers of telekinesis. I could mentally clean up my room three times over before I ever physically moved a muscle.
I have been accused of being lazy, dramatic, of being silly to be scared over nothing. It was my mom who first told me to quit making mountains out of molehills. While I laughed at her old-school idiom, once she explained the concept I knew she was right. I was making a bigger deal out of things than was necessary or appropriate; she just didn’t understand that it wasn’t a choice.
As a young adult, when I became more self-aware of this practice, I adopted a lifestyle of spontaneity. I knew that if I stopped to think about anything, everything, that I would get stuck. I decided to stop thinking about anything. I had to be carefree in order to be free. It worked surprisingly well. In the years that I was able to act before thinking, I was happier. I wasn’t kinder. I wasn’t smarter. I was accused of being shallow and flighty and unintelligent. I was accused of being careless and inconsiderate and hurtful. I couldn’t stop to think about how my actions affected others. I couldn’t think about other people’s feelings. For those years, I didn’t care. I felt weightless, untouchable. I was actually living life with my body and not just all in my head. It was refreshing. It was fleeting.
Life caught up. I wasn’t someone who could act without consequences, though I so desperately wanted to be. I was someone who needed to weigh options and make choices. The realities of employment, housing, bills, life don’t exist in the same space as impulsiveness. I needed to act a certain way. The problem is, it only leads me right back to inaction.
I look around and see the countless mountains I’ve built around me.
There are the digital mountains, with no physical form. The little red bubbles attached to my phone and mail apps. Calls missed and messages unheard, unopened, unanswered.
There are the physical mountains. Piles of laundry, no longer sorted by color, bubbling over basket rims, melding and melting onto the floor. Dishes, organized by shape and stacked in a hierarchy determined by amount of caked on food. Cups towering and leaning in an homage to Pisa. Piles of mail. Junk unopened with no place to go. A paycheck opened, needing to be deposited in the bank.
A to-do list. Re-written every day. Sometimes, just to make the words look better, the letters straighter, the categories more organized. Things constantly being carried over to the next day and the next. The next page and the next. The mental moving of mountains.
Some days, it’s just a sock. A simple, tiny sock on the stairs. It’s amazing how quickly a sock can grow into a mountain.