Too Much, Too Many

The Prompt: “Perhaps too much of everything is as bad as too little.” – Edna Ferber. Do you agree with this statement on excess?

 Too Much, Too Many

Lately, I’ve taken to having panic attacks late at night as I’m trying to fall asleep. When I’m having one of these episodes, I suddenly feel as though I’m not going to be able to breathe. It’s not that I can’t breathe at the moment, but a feeling that I’m soon not going to be able to breathe. Sometimes it helps to use an inhaler, then to substitute one pillow for two and to lie on my back rather than my side, as I usually sleep; but more often than not, the only way I can stem the rising panic is to go outside in the fresh air and to sit for awhile, or walk.

This doesn’t happen every night, but it happens too often for comfort. I live alone, and although from time to time I miss company, these late night episodes are the only times when I fear being alone. Perhaps a vision of someday being old and vulnerable is what prompts them, but I know the reason why that fear is expressed as an inability to breathe is because of a TV show I watched over a year ago wherein a young boy was bound, blindfolded and buried alive as water slowly filled up the tank he was buried in, eventually drowning him after 24 hours of torture during which he was aware of his eventual fate. I can think of no more horrible death, and I would give a thousand dollars not to have seen that scene. I no longer watch the show but its damage has been done and it is that scene, along with an earlier scene where I was trapped underwater and came very close to drowning that fuel my conscious nightmares during this time.

In my daylight world, I have a similar fear of being buried under things. My main problems are tool, art supplies and papers—many of which are equally worthless to me. (Closets full of too-small or too-large clothes I just might shrink down to or grow into again, my husband’s stone-drilling tools that have resided in two large cupboards in my garage for 13 years and never used, my income tax returns and receipts that go back to 1964, a lifetime of letters  and drawers and shelves of art supplies and collage items I’m fairly sure I’ll never use.) Yet, I have an irrational fear that the minute I rid myself of them, I will need them. I also have paintings stored in every closet as well as under a high rise bed I had made in my upstairs guest room—a bed with a drawer that holds 20 paintings—some by famous painters, some by myself. I would not hang my paintings, but also cannot throw them away or sell them. Nor can I throw away any of the probably 50,000 items that fill every shelf, drawer, bag, surface and hidden spot of my art studio. I make excuses for myself. I am a collage artist. I teach classes and I may need them to share. They have sentimental value.

My house is not messy (except for desktops and my studio) and there is generally a place for everything. It is clean, thanks to a three-times-a-week housecleaner. When company comes, I usually finally organize my desk, file the papers and cover those I don’t get filed with a beautiful scarf or sari, but I know there is a clutter hidden in a drawer or under a beautiful cover, and this disorganization chokes me as surely as my night panics.

My grandmother was a hoarder and so was my oldest sister. I tell myself I have this in control more than they did; but occasionally, when the piles on the built in desk that covers one wall in my bedroom spill over onto the chair, I start to fear that the family curse is taking me over. And in the dark, I can sense it growing nearer, its arms stretched out and its hands aching to encircle my neck and to choke me, shutting off my air slowly, over the years, leaving my middle sister (the uncluttered one) to finally do what I have not been able to do: to rid my house of too much, too many—the irony being that I will be the first object they will have to remove to enable her to do it!

 

12 thoughts on “Too Much, Too Many

  1. Ann Koplow

    Amazing post, Judy. I hurried through your description of that awful, scary scene because of my vivid imagination and my tendency to remember painful scenes (which really seem to stick in human minds, especially empathic ones, I believe). When you are panicking at night, feeling alone, how about trying this: think about those of us here in WordPress who are — in ways — with you always. I know that helps me!

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  2. Martha Kennedy

    I found getting rid of my stuff to make this move very liberating. I believe I could have walked away from all of it, but social convention and the advice of friends and my illusion that my niece might want some of this stuff some day made me pack. Still, I got my stuff into two U-Haul U-Boxes. The stuff I really cared about is in the trunk of my car. It’s my art supplies, a quilt my grandmother made and a few family treasures. Still, If I’d been fleeing a fire, I would have left it all behind.

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  3. dorannrule

    I get those night panics sometimes too, but learned to breathe deeply and hold for 4 seconds after each inhale, while trying to clear my mind of all images. Usually by the 4th inhale, I’m back to sleep. Hope that works for you too.

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  4. Allenda Moriarty

    I’m sorry you are having those frightening moments. I wish we were able to be next door for you so you could call out to us, if you needed. I had imagined us all growing older together and being able to help each other out. When I go to bed tonight, I will be sending you peaceful wishes, and if I wake up to pee, I will be sending more. You are so dear.

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  5. Ann O'Neal Garcia

    I enjoyed reading this, though it was a tense read and one I can relate to, including the thing you wish you had not seen. I won’t even say out loud or write down the worst torture scene I have ever witnessed: it was real and involved an animal. I was a little girl on the sidelines who could or would do nothing about it. We all have ugly images that tend to pop up during the time we can’t sleep, like a crazed jack in the box. I can also relate to thinking about all my stuff, wondering if it wouldn’t be kinder to get rid of lots of it now. Kinder to my kids, that is. I will never read my novels stuffed in drawers, sometimes two or even three drafts apiece–there are nine novels hidden away in four drawers; I did throw one away. I gave away some of my college texts, English lit, American lit, Shakespeare, which I have wanted again, now that we are here in OR and the last move has been accomplished. Sometimes in thrift stores I’ll find what I used to have, and I’ll buy it. Just got a paper-mache pumpkin with a little electric candle in it, the same as I took to illuminate Hallowe’en stories in the dark class room, with all my little 7th graders crowding around, each so anxious to tell a story. I have regretted throwing away the little school newspapers with the poems and stories of those darlings. When I throw away letters, it is like tossing souls in the waste can. I think you’re like this, too–your things have become imbued with a presence, most often a holy presence, a presence to beat back the night terrors. When I can’t sleep, I too suffer. I used to give up with the deep breathing that never worked, and I’d read. Well now that I am older, my eyes hurt by the time I go to bed, so I listen to NPR. I advise you start doing this, but at 10 PM they start up with the awful news, over and over, so at that time I switch to classical music station. Sometimes it works. We have over-active minds, Judy.

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  6. Ann O'Neal Garcia

    not done yet, dang. I would love to see your paintings. I adored the one you showed us, illustrating all the things that take up your time when you should be doing something “important.” To throw away any art piece is a true crime; I would throw words away long before I’d toss an image. I even have Eric Lee’s green beans watercolor he did in art class when he was a freshman and gave to me.

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  7. lifelessons Post author

    Well, my dear Ann. When I have an empty overcast afternoon some time, I’ll go up and photograph them for you. It would be embarrassing to have the world see them but i trust you to take them for what they are worth–a venturing out to try something not in my normal comfort zone. I love the art of yours I’ve seen, although I’ve seen none lately. Peraps it is time to start posting some of your own sketches again. The ones I’ve seen are charming. We’ll trust Mary to be kind! Ha. I’ve enjoyed seeing her work so much. When I got back from Ethiopia, she and Julie Luhr and I believe Margaret Shaw took me out in the country for a photo shoot–my first artistic foray. It was so much fun, but I didn’t do it again for many many years. I think it opened up my mind to the possibility, however, and showed me that all art need not be with pencil, crayon or brush. Most of us have no idea of what the simplest act can inspire in the mind of another. ox J

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  8. Louise Swingler

    Thanks for commenting on my blog, Judy. I like your blog – there is much more to read and I will follow it so I don’t forget to come back. There were many points whilst reading this post where I was nodding away (desks spilling onto chairs (and then the floor!), hardly being able to bear torture scenes, lying awake at night panicking. Thanks for your openness in writing of these things!

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  9. Pingback: Poem / Poetry – “Room In My Heart For You” | toofulltowrite (I've started so I'll finish)

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