Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Guilt...and Why You Shouldn't Ever Go to the Grocery Store if You Personify Inanimate Objects


I carried a discarded Otter Pops box for three miles today.  

I found it on the side of the road and at first I ran past it.  Then I started feeling guilty about not picking it up because I started to think of all the bad things that could happen as a result of my negligence - What if a bird gets its head stuck in there?  What if someone saw me totally ignoring my responsibility to personally keep the planet clean and free of discarded Otter Pops boxes and then they judged me for it?  What if a child runs across the road to check out that brightly colored thing on the other side and is struck by a car?  What if next time it rains, the dye from the packaging material seeps into the soil around it and then next year a wild strawberry plant grows in that location and produces a strawberry that is just full of toxic chemicals waiting to be ingested by an unsuspecting person who will later die of colon cancer and have no idea why because they always took care of themselves and ate their fruits and vegetables but actually?  That's what killed them.  And it would be my fault.  

I turned around and ran back to pick up the box.  

It was an unwieldy thing and not easy to run with, but I live in the middle of nowhere and trash cans are not easy to come by so I had no choice but to carry it with me for miles.   As I was running along, trying to ignore the strange looks I was getting from passing motorists, I started to hate my guilty conscience.  Why do I always feel like I have a moral obligation to do these things or else something bad will happen to the world, my mom and everybody?  Why can't I just ignore trash on the side of the road like a normal person?  Crap... was that a beer can?   

And it doesn't stop at roadside waste, either.  I feel the need to donate a dollar to breast cancer research every time I go to Safeway even though I only have seventeen dollars in my checking account and I know that I am going to get an overdraft charge but the cashier looks so nice and she was smiling at me and then she was watching me while I was deciding whether to check "yes" or "no" to donating a dollar for breast cancer and I just couldn't check "no" because then she'd see me do it and she'd think I was an asshole and I'd think I was an asshole for personally ruining the lives of researchers and breast cancer sufferers everywhere.   

There is another obstacle I face every time I walk into the grocery store.... and here's where it gets really ridiculous... I feel bad for all of the unwanted items on the clearance rack.  That's right - I experience emotional distress over the "feelings"of inanimate objects.  I start thinking "Oh those poor scissors!  They are on sale for 80% off and no one has bought them yet!"  And then?  I feel like it is my duty to buy them and rescue them from the terrible abandonment they must be experiencing.   

Luckily, I usually have Boyfriend there to try and talk some sense into me.  Sometimes it doesn't end well.  Tthe scissors incident (which is a real incident that I am just getting ready to tell you about) is a good example:  I was in the local IGA with Boyfriend and we were walking past the clearance aisle and there was a bin of items that was marked "50% or more off! WOW!"  On the very top of this bin were the scissors I was just talking about.  Actually, they were scissors with a corkscrew on the handle.   I thought "Oh those poor scissors!" and then I said "hey... we should get these..."

Boyfriend: "What is it?"

Me:  "It's scissors with a corkscrew on the handle."

Boyfriend: "That's stupid."

Me:  "Don't say that!"

Boyfriend:  "Why not?"

Me:  "You'll hurt their feelings..."

Boyfriend:  "They're scissors, Allie..."

Me:  "I know... but they have been rejected by everyone else and they are sitting here in the super-clearance bin waiting for someone to buy them but obviously no one has bought them even though they are eighty percent off and now you just called them stupid!"

Boyfriend: ....

Me:  "Take it back." 

Boyfriend: "What?"

Me:  "Take it back... what you said to the scissors..."

Boyfriend:  "I... I am not going to apologize to a pair of scissors in public."

Me:  "Then can we at least buy them and you can do it at home?"

Boyfriend:  "Do you have any idea how ridiculous that sounds?"

Me:  "Please?" 

Boyfriend:  "Fine... (whispering) I'm sorry, scissors..."

Me: "Pat them."

Boyfriend:  "WHAT??"

Me:  "Pat them... to let them know you mean it."

Boyfriend:  "I draw the line at patting the scissors."

At this point, I felt strongly that Boyfriend was being demeaning toward the scissors, but - because I am not actually insane - I decided not to push him any further.  Plus, I totally patted the scissors and mouthed "I'm sorry..." when Boyfriend wasn't looking.   

Boyfriend likes to make use of this little quirk of mine when he wants me to do something.  When he can't finish his fries he'll ask me if I want them.   If I'm too full, I say no and then Boyfriend says "but how do you think the fries feel?  You don't want to hurt their feelings, right? I bet they totally want you to eat them and now they feel rejected because you're 'too full...'" And then I throw a mustard packet at Boyfriend and immediately regret it because I start feeling bad for the mustard packet. 

According to Wikipedia, this "object personification" is probably a symptom of my synesthesia:

"For some people, in addition to numbers and other ordinal sequences, objects are sometimes imbued with a sense of personality. Recent research has begun to show that alphanumeric personification co-varies with other forms of synesthesia, and is consistent and automatic, as required to be considered a form of synesthesia"

But that doesn't necessarily make me feel any better about it.  However, it gives you guys a psychologically justifiable reason to not write me off as completely insane, so I figured that I better include it just in case.  I mean, I don't think you typically run across people who project emotional vulnerability onto scissors.  But maybe other people do this too, in which case I would love to hear about it!  

This little problem of mine has lessened with age.  When I was young, I felt terribly guilty every time I walked on grass because I thought the blades of grass would get hurt.  I cried when I lost my mitten because I pictured my poor little mitten sitting alone in the cold and feeling abandoned.  I became emotionally attached to a dead fish that I was supposed to feed to a sea lion and ended up carrying the fish around and singing to it until my mom convinced me that the fish wanted to go play with his friend the sea lion.  I think this all sounds pretty normal for a kid, but for an adult?  Something tells me no.  

Most of the time I can use logic to overcome my tendency to look out for the emotional well-being of inanimate objects, but I still feel twinges of guilt every time I throw something away and I have a very hard time eating Goldfish crackers.  

P.S. I read this to boyfriend and he vehemently denied insulting the scissors.  He remembers the incident and the fact that he said something was stupid, but he asserts that "I would never say that about scissors!  You can pretty much add anything to scissors and it makes them more awesome!" 

I just wish he felt that way when those poor scissors needed to hear that.    

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