Since then, I've learned that it's been a term long in employ by the code geeks, but the context in which I first heard of it was a cultural-anthropological one (or sociological, I get them confused.) Either way, the essence of meaning is pretty much the same: an not-quite-impossibly dense situation is dropped in your lap; how do you begin to untangle it so that it makes sense to you and/or others?
I no longer get down on myself for my minor obsessions. Instead, I generally indulge them, well, the ones that don't involve meth or whoring, anyway, until I've sussed out, or unpacked, why they hold me in their thrall.
For example, I've watched Play Misty for Me, an excellent but hardly earth-shattering 1970s film directed by and starring Clint Eastwood, roughly 50 - 75 times, by conservative estimation. I wrote about it a bit here, but if you're feeling lazy, the gist of the why was wrapped up in eight flavors of comfort: my love for the Central Coast of California (see also here, here and here); my love for an emotionally distant dad who loved Clint Eastwood; my (probably misplaced and idealized) love for a long-lost decade; etc.
Via years and years of talk therapy, I've also unpacked the bulk of the why about...
- my ridiculous fear of asking for help (overly high parental expectations for first-born baby genius girl)
- my predilection for Judge Judy, Dr. Laura, Tom Leykis and other dogmatic arbiters of fairness (lack of control over chaotic events in my childhood)
- my desire for ridiculously soft toilet tissue in bulk, excessively long and hot showers, and a narrow range of acceptable inside temperature (draconian year-and-a-half incarceration at Gloomy Manor)
The thing is, as I've intimated above, in most cases this knowledge was not immediately and readily accessible. So I didn't exactly live the unexamined life, but I did a whole lot of crap (the meth! the whoring!) while I was busy doing the unpacking.
It's maddening, sometimes, because it's hard not to think that if only I had the key, I could unlock these chains and shrug them off. I could stop eating or stop drinking or stop being mean or stop self-sabotaging in any of a million-billion ways, if I just knew what the fuck this was about.
This, of course, is how people end up morbidly obese, alcoholic, friendless and dead in alleys before their time. This is the Big Lie. Ultimately, it may not matter, or at least, right now it may not matter. If your boyfriend punches you in the face, you could spend a lot of time mulling over how you got there, or you could get your ass to a safe house and maybe live to find out later. (Oh, and for the record, while I've grappled with all kinds of darknesses, one thing I'm relieved I never had to was domestic abuse. And I say "relieved" mainly because I'm not at all sure I'd have had the wisdom to see the early signs and the ladyballs to get myself the hell out.)
Right now, I'm in the throes of unpacking some really overstuffed, super-compacted situations. They're old, these things, even if the lead thread is new. I've noticed alcohol creep, for one, never a great thing, mainly because I really enjoy it and don't want my consumption to escalate to the point where I've got to give my beloved vino the heave-ho entirely. I'm hating the phone more than usual and still fighting my way through every invoice (to send, not to pay) and check (to deposit, not to write).
It is good to know the why, and I can't imagine abandoning the search. My ex-mother-in-law, whose problem set did not align with my own (one reason, I'm sure, why she was exceptionally easy for me to love), had a little framed Engelbreit-esque illustration opposite the can that used to drive me insane, a sullen Ye Olde Girle, with a hand-lettered exhortation: "Snap Out of It".
Especially when I was sullen because my delicate bowels refused to function in a home with one toilet per four people. (Even Gloomy Manor had an excessive amount of plumbing, rickety as it was.)
But I get it. There are times for reflection, and times for soldiering on: when kids are involved, or survival is threatened, or even when things really Need to Get Done. In these times, I use carrot, stick or what-have-you to get there. So much is at stake, and honestly? You can be contemplative when you're dead.
At least, I think you can...