(about trash, proper places, follow-through, willingness, inability, and aim)
When I walk past the trash cans in Goodale Park, I’m encouraged by how much garbage ends up inside them. But I’m also troubled by how often trash almost (but not quite) gets there. It ends up “close by”, as if each trash receptacle is the stake for a game of garbage horseshoes where “close” can win.
This kind of misguided mindset is rampant. In this next photo from Lundy Street you can see that the city’s blue recycling bin is conveniently adjacent to the 300-gallon trash container. And yet, perched at the top in the trash container is a recyclable cardboard box filled with more cardboard and an equally recyclable glass wine bottle. They came so close to getting the recycling in the right container!
This behavior is not limited to trash. My home is filled with “so close” scenarios, too. My mother-in-law sets her dirty dishes on the kitchen counter, but doesn’t put them in the dishwasher. My son sets his coat on a chair very near the front closet where a hanger waits for it. We place our children’s folded clean clothes on the stairs to their bedrooms in the futile hope that they’ll be carried to their bedrooms and placed in drawers. And this morning my daughter used the last of the toilet paper but merely propped a new role on top of the dispenser. So close.
Along the same lines, I recently read an article about researchers who found that the so-close “human spillage” from men at urinals can be mitigated simply by embedding the image of a housefly right above the drain. Apparently, all men like to aim (which might explain how the Goodale Park garbage lands at least in the vicinity of the trash cans), and this strategy reduces the spillage by 80% (but I don’t want to know how they measured that).
The “so close” phenomenon extends even beyond getting things in their proper place. We also see it when we buy a book, but never actually read it. Or when people buy exercise equipment (like a treadmill) and never use it (or they hang clothes on it, essentially doubling the “so close” effect, since the treadmill is so close to being used, and the clothes are so close to arriving at their destination). Or when the driver in front of you has scraped some of the frost off the car’s rear window, but not enough to actually see you or any other traffic.
We know that we should put the trash in the can, the dishes in the dishwasher, the recycling in the blue container, the coat in the closet, and the urine within the confines of the porcelain. And we should exercise. And read. And scrape. Why do we start, but then fail to follow through? Are we lazy, distracted, and half-hearted in our commitments? Maybe, but many of my own struggles (like writing a conclusion to a particular blog) are unrelated to any of these reasons. My struggles remind me of a Latin phrase on a rubber stamp that my sister gave me: “Volo, non voleo” (I am willing but unable).
While writing, I sometimes feel that I am close to making a point, but nothing comes to mind, and I can’t find a solution through brute force. I am willing, but unable. And I think we all deserve to broadly cut ourselves some slack for many more of these things that we don’t complete. My grandparents owned a farm, but because of clinical depression my grandfather lay immobilized on their couch for a long time, unable to do the work that needed to be done. He was willing, but unable. I keep trying to like cauliflower, fixing it in various ways and adding it to meals, but it doesn’t work, because although I’m willing to like it, I am unable. I can’t “will” myself to like a food that I hate any more easily than my grandfather could “will” his depression away. And maybe it’s the same with all of this, and with all of us. Sometimes we just can’t make ourselves push through.
So perhaps instead of yielding to my temptation to publicly shame my mother-in-law, I should view her actions with forgiveness and understanding, realizing that she might have no choice. Perhaps even she is willing, but unable.
Still, I know that I need to develop conclusions to blogs, and my son knows that his coat belongs on that hanger in the closet. Given the proclivities of men, this can at least give us something to aim for.