I'm Not Anal . . . You're A Slob!

IN THE WORLD WHERE I'M KING, all my subjects would be allowed to say anything they wished, but they'd have to say it properly. They'd have complete freedom of speech, so long as they used correct grammar and definitions.

So when I hear people call me "anal" when referring to my non-slovenly lifestyle, I want to shout, "Off with their heads!" and send them straight to the dirty, dank, dreary dungeon: their own filthy bedroom.

First of all, there's the matter of definition. "Anal" is short for "anal retentive," which is a Freudian stage of child development when the infant's attention moves from oral to anal stimulation, where it then learns to control excretory functions. Freud theorized that children who experience conflicts during this period may develop the personality traits of orderliness, stubbornness, a compulsion for control, as well as a generalized interest in collecting, possessing, and retaining objects. Although Freud's theories on early childhood have been influential, modern research suggests that parental attitudes have a much more concrete effect on how an infant will grow up.

The key phrase here is "Freud theorized . . ."

In George Orwell's 1984, the totalitarian government pacified the populace by redefining words as their opposite meaning. War fell under the rubric of The Ministry of Peace and so on. In the real world, this tendency for the majority (or a powerful, vocal minority) to redefine previously acceptable behavior as deviant continues apace. Formerly lauded personality traits such as neatness, organization, and cleanliness, falling outside the ability or approval of the powers-that-be, are redefined as wrong and even sick. "Anal" is one such definition.

Now I'm perfectly willing to allow that the woman that lives in her tiny apartment with 35 cats is in trouble by any standard, most notably hygiene. Ditto the co-worker who sharpens all his pencils to the exact same length. No one is going to say these folks do not have issues. But to apply the term "anal" to them is incorrect and doubly so when applied to someone whose organizational and achievement skills are not extreme but merely surpass your own.

You see, we "order-freaks" are on to you slobs. We've been in your home, waiting for half an hour as you scurry around searching for your car keys. Ours we found hanging on the hook by the kitchen door, where we place them each evening as we come in from the garage after work. When you finally find the keys under a couch cushion, we're late for the movie and you wonder why we're, as my mom used to say, "fit to spit!" It's probably just as well that we are seated apart in the crowded theater; you don't want to hear for the thousandth time how your lack of organization (or dare I say consideration?) has once again made a simple evening a never-ending battle with inanimate objects from the car keys to the sitter's number, to where we parked the car, to getting napkins for the popcorn.

If cornered, you toss it off. "I'm too creative to be bothered with such mundane things!" you shout as you sort through the garbage can for your retainer. (Not too bothered, I hope, to make it to the ER for treatment for salmonella poisoning.)

You look around at my house and snort, "Does anybody live here?" as if slovenliness were a prerequisite for happiness. To a shrinking minority of us, order in our physical surroundings happily releases us from worrying whether those undies really need washing, allowing us time to ponder the wonders of nature, plot our next book, or reminisce on the good old days when cleanliness was God's next-door neighbor instead of his arch-enemy living across the street in a Silence of the Lambs basement.

But we fuss-budgets are generous sorts. We know that your life of confusion, memory loss, and disorder effectively punishes far more than we could. We know that when you smirk and label us as "anal," what you're really saying is that you're unwilling to master one of life's most basic talents: the ability to structure your world so you achieve your goals. Not my goals. Your goals.

That's too bad, because I want you to achieve your goals. I want you to experience the joy of getting there early, the self-satisfaction of finishing your homework in time to watch your favorite TV show, the pride of wearing matching socks. All that I want for you. But you've got to want it too. So start by ceasing to label the rest of us. We're not your enemies. We don't have a derogatory psycho-sexual term for your failings; to us, you're just a slob, and being a slob is not a personality disorder. It's merely a refusal to do what's next.

That's all we clean-mongers do. We do what's next. The dishes don't fill the sink because we rinse and stack. The remote doesn't get kicked into the pool because we don't take it out to the backyard in the first place. Our cavity got filled because we made the appointment with the dentist, wrote it down on the calendar taped to the fridge, and looked at it the night before as we raided the freezer for the Rocky Road, which was in there because we bought two containers, knowing that no matter what lies we tell ourselves, we're going to eat a whole half-gallon and so it's a good idea to have another one for the rest of the family.

We do what comes next and guess what: It becomes habit and soon we don't have to think about it anymore and that means we're free to think about everything else. Including what you want for Christmas. (You're paying attention now, aren't you?)

So next time you're tempted to call me "anal," remember: if you do, it will be just another reason you might not find something from me under your tree. The other is that you don't have a tree because you put off buying one until Christmas eve and they were all sold out. But that's your problem. I don't have one.

Okay, maybe one: I'm not king.

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