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Burning the Beast

By Kathyrn Lynard

I’m shoveling out the holiday aftermath.

Ripped boxes, shredded paper, torn ribbons, untwisted twisty ties (you know, the parent-tormentor variety used to anchor toys to their packaging securely enough to survive an atomic blast), half-eaten candy canes, little lumps of red and green metallic foil from various Christmas chocolates, crushed cheese crackers (planted in stockings to stave off hunger-fueled meltdowns during the Great Opening of Gifts), sliced-open plastic casing (only kitchen shears are tough enough for the job), and scraps of scotch tape that I had to peel off the carpet and linoleum.

This is a dangerous job. For one thing, that shorn plastic stuff is way sharp. For another, all this shoveling triggers my “let’s burn the house down and start over” fantasy.

Most of the time I manage the mechanics of living with a modicum of grace. We haul in plastic sacks of groceries, we haul out plastic sacks of garbage. We carry baskets of filthy clothes downstairs and carry baskets of clean clothes back up (approximately 15 loads a week, mind you). We carry food and dishes onto the dinner table and then carry food-covered dishes back to the counter. We load food into mouths and then … ahem … unload it approximately 24 hours later (red meat excluded). A home is a living, breathing beast with undeniable needs and predictable digestion.

I live under the delusion that the beast can be tamed. That if I work hard enough and plan well enough, I can attend to all its needs so thoroughly that it will lean back in its chair, sigh contentedly, and sleep for a few days. I attempt this, to some degree, every Saturday (the special day). When I’m really on fire, the crusty kids get bathed, the crusty sheets and towels get washed, the crusty floor gets mopped. Doled-out chores get the worst of the clutter under control again. On rare occasion I even prepare Sunday dinner ahead of time so I can silence the Sabbath beast’s hunger growl without breaking a sweat. There have been Saturday evenings when all the planets have aligned, all the chores have been completed, and all my sanity has not spilled in the process. With all other sentient beings tucked in for the night, I have stood in the dark, quiet belly of the sleeping beast, scrubbed clean, and breathed a deep sigh of exquisite contentment.

I suppose those pauses are all the more poignant because I know that within hours, the animal will awaken. The great fleshy machine will grind into gear again, and I will be required to stand in the heart of it, with hardly a bathroom break. The impending doom of resuming chaos makes the little slice of order all the more tasty.

But sometimes the little slices are just not enough. Like tonight. I’m shoveling with relish–too much relish. I’m craving an extra-long pause, an abiding, resonating tone of silence wherein all is bare and clean, unfettered. Where the life of the beast is suspended in a benign coma, granting wide psychic space for the beast-tender.

Winning that space would warrant drastic measures. I’m sorely tempted to grab the matches and kerosene. But the toxic fumes from all that burning plastic and cheese cracker mulch and colored paper would probably kill me, and ruin all the fun.

Originally published in Mamazine

About Kathyrn Lynard

(Founding Editor) is the author of the memoir The Year My Son and I Were Born (Globe Pequot Press, 2009) and the editor of four published anthologies. She contributes to Mormon forums from Meridian Magazine to Sunstone on a variety of topics including gender issues, disability, mental health, sexuality, family life, and spirituality.

14 thoughts on “Burning the Beast”

  1. I have this feeling often. We don't have a dishwasher and I think I spend about an hour a day washing dishes, only to see them get dirty all over again. We only have two children, but I like to cook and my husband works at home so all four of us eat all of our meals here every day. Too bad dishes don't burn.

    I've also been pondering why the end of pregnancy invokes such strong desires for cleanliness and order. I've been vacuuming more than ever these days, and everytime my kids are busy I get rid of more stuff behind their backs. I have an incredible urge to stock my pantry and clean everything before the baby comes just so I can have some of that elusive 'pause time'

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  2. Classic, Kathy–the beast metaphor, and the way you layer moments and feelings, so that this Christmas moment overlaps with so many other feelings and life-bits.

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  3. Every time we move or every 5 years (whichever comes first), we rent a big dumpster from the garbage company. The joy I feel in my heart as the garbage truck drops the beast in my driveway is seldom matched. Over the next 3 days old, broken toys, broken furniture, the horribly stained clothes and other items that even DI wouldn't want are ceremoniously chucked in the dumpster. The feeling is glorious! The garbage truck then comes and takes it all away. Our little version of burn and start over.

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  4. I have mostly given up on taming the beast — just can't keep up with the day-to-day that is never completely done — so I attempt smaller cleansing projects that keep me satisfied in the interim. Sometimes it's cycling through all the kids' clothes when the seasons or sizes change. Sometimes it's reorganizing a closet. Today, it was the annual post-Christmas toy purge. It feels great, and I'm even less grumpy about the dirty dishes on the kitchen table.

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  5. I have the green garbage bag fantasy where we fill several garbage bags full of all the things we don't use or need and send them off to donate. The house feels lighter, my mind rejuvenated, clutter control easier because of all the new spaces to store things. Yeah right. The problem is that I'm the only one who is on board with my idea. I get literal tears when I start to set things aside that haven't been used in months. Every Christmas I get a sick feeling because we take in more things that we send out which exacerbates the problem. The excess causes me to have so much guilt for all that we have, and we're not even wealthy by the world's standards. There is so much to manage in our day-to-day living that it would be nice to have a place for everything and everything in it's place. I am trying not to worry too much, even though I have the same desire you do to stand in my "beast" with it scrubbed clean and actually enjoy it for more than the meager few hours that follow. I know that some day, in the next "season" of my life, the beast will quiet down and be much more manageable. I fear that I will then stand in the belly of the beast and weep for what once was. 🙁

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  6. "The great fleshy machine will grind into gear again…"

    So true.

    We, the six of us, live in a very small home for modern day standards, so your words resonate with me even further. The clutter and 24/7 mess literally feel like they are closing in on me some days.

    Those are the days I push back the walls and reclaim a clean, open space, if not in my home, in my mind. It helps.

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  7. I've sort of actually done this. 7 years ago, my husband and I and our two children moved overseas. We only took what we could fit in our six suitcases. Everything else, with the exception of our library, one table, and a few mementos was sold, donated or trashed. The few things we saved were lovingly packed in plastic tubs and stacked in my parents' garage. Because our time in Sweden was limited to five years, we worked very hard not to accumulate stuff. It also helped that we lived, eventually, with 6 people in 700 square feet, stuff took too much space! Knowing that we would have to get rid of it made a big difference for me. When we returned to the U.S., we followed the same pattern, only packing what we could in our suitcases and getting rid of the rest of our stuff. It was so liberating.
    So, if you want to get rid of stuff, move abroad with only suitcases.

    As for the daily beast of dishes, food, chores, etc., oh, how I sympathize. Thanks for expressing it so poetically and metaphorically.

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  8. I'm so glad I'm not the only one who has fantasies of burning down the house. I'm trying to pack up Christmas stuff today and I feel like packing it all into a garbage can.

    The beast is eating me alive this year.

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