To redouble the difficulties of moving to a foreign country, the onslaught of my big dumb adventure in Korea coincided with the first time I lived away from home and the first real Big Boy job I had ever had. As though to compound and concrete up my developing, nascent sense of grown-upedness, I would move around the world on my own and begin working full-time all at once. The teaching, at least, I had done before. Moving to a different culture, I felt ready for, at least in-as-much as one can feel ready to abandon everything your brain accepts as a normal way of life. The weirdest part has probably been adjusting to living on my own.
My feeling of myself as an adult is one that I cling to, a tiny bulb of ego to be nourished against the other prevailing notion in my brain that I’m still a developing man-child in over his head. For whatever reason, I disconnect this Grown Up feeling from my profession, and from my interactions with Korean culture. Teaching occupies its own region of my consciousness, and it’s something I managed to do while feeling still overarchingly immature. By the same token, I’ve also travelled and written about travelling in previous years, all while overall feeling half-baked as a cognitively developed Real Adult.
While superficial at times, my Grown Up sense is deeply tied to my apartment and how I manage it. Every aspect seems to speak to my abilities to be a Person who can be good at Life. When the apartment is well-maintained, when the dishes are washed, when the floors are clean, when the laundry is nice and folded, I feel pride. I feel wise. I feel as though I can confront the world, come what may, weather any storm, cliché cliché cliché. I feel precocious, as though no one has ever managed to live alone at 23 before (and I suffocate my cognitive dissonance by ignoring my knowledge about how the majority of people used to do this and how many still do). My ego swells Jabba-like, and I become self-satisfied.
It is a shame, then, that I am systematically unable to maintain the apartment, or this preening sense of self, for more than a consecutive three-day span. The cleanliness of my apartment rides on an easily observable cycle, as do my moods and my feelings about the rising tide of filth surrounding and entrapping me. Behold, a standard week.
Tuesday is the cleanliest day. It is garbage day, and thus I remove all of the crap I accrue over the span of one week. The laundry has just finished drying and is put away. Often I will make my bed as soon as I am out of it. Things are orderly. If I use a dish, I wash it almost instantly, allow it to dry, and then put it away. Coincidentally, Tuesday is also the night I have little time at home, so there is no chance to mess things up. The delicate ecosystem of orderliness is maintained harmoniously, mostly because I am not around to disrupt it. The moments I am, I am overcome with smugness. All is well.
Wednesday and Thursday, I spend only a little time at home. Trash has no chance to build up, I only leave a few articles of clothing draped across the futon, and the bed gets made at least at some point before I go to sleep. I am comfortable with my adulthood. It is secure. I think I could make a go at being an adult professionally! They have leagues for this sort of thing, right?
Friday and Saturday strike. I cook things, and have no time to scour the dishes. They begin to form a tower in the sink, slowly building, becoming more rickety and galling to my sensibilities by the second. I stop looking in the direction of the kitchenette, hoping that in the time before I snap and do the dishes, they will become sentient and get to it themselves. I go out those nights, and when I eventually stumble in, I drink water and juice from the bottle, I drop my clothes upon whatever spot they first leave my wretched body, and fall into my shredded, unmade bed. When I wake, I will eat breakfast, not wash the dishes, and never look at the condition of the tile in the bathroom when I shower. It will be better if I don’t know.
On these days, I have no time for shame. I’m living my life! Seeing the world! Life is my oyster and also a big box of chocolates, and who can think about piddling concerns like cleanliness and sanitation when you’re out eating chocolate oysters all the time? Adulthood maintained! Party on!
Sunday I wake. I see the condition of my apartment. I grow concerned. Do people actually live like this? I become certain I was cloned in a lab, and that bear or pig genes were spliced in at some point. Do Koreans break into my apartment and leave the dust from their own homes for me to deal with? I can’t have possibly done all of this. Do dirty dishes breed?
I wallow in self-pity for some time, click about the internet, feeling down on myself and my capabilities as an adult. Real people don’t do this. Real people believe in picking up after themselves, and don’t behave as though they were raised by wolves. I momentarily develop hypochondria, positive I have inflicted myself with untold disease and bacteria. What is wrong with me? As you grow up, you become cognizant of the laundry hamper, and you try to organize your refuse. You do not allow your one-room to turn into its own dystopic hell-hole.
I steel myself. Things can change. I will redouble my commitment to being a real Grown-Up. I put on the laundry (and tape the exhaust hose into the sink so that it doesn’t flood the bathroom anymore, a neat trick I learned a few weeks back). I scrub the dishes, and the floors, and the walls. I acquire groceries, cook a meal, and clean the remnants, rather than letting them fester. I spray air freshener. I would live here, I think, even if I wasn’t required to by the Korean government.
By Monday, my laundry is freshly drying upon the many racks. My sink is still empty, and my futon clear of detritus. I have done good. My pride returns, and I flop onto bed, swollen with ego once more. I deserve a little break from cleaning and organization for the next few days, don’t I? I am, after-all, such a grown-up, that I can just get to cleaning up after myself in a few days!
The cycle begins anew.