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Control freak conquers messy artist inside me

Safety, stability, security. My family's formula for success, instilled in me at an early age, is embodied in a simple small object that I always carry in my purse and now hold in my hand -- Tide to Go. My best friend, my confidant, my protector.

Who needs a man when you've got Tide to Go? It can save you from being ridiculed by the fifth-graders you must teach after spilling coffee on your blouse at lunch. It can provide security of having your clothes free from any evidence of your clumsiness.

It gives the security of knowing that no matter what you ate before a stressful blind date, it will never be seen by your potential mate. And it gives you stability that no matter what happens in life and no matter what dirt lands on your conscience and your treasured Chanel suit before your job interview at a prestigious firm, you can always clean it up.

Neat freak, perfectionist, control freak, OCD. People use these words as an insult, but for me they symbolize virtue.

So what if my grandmother used to walk around her apartment picking up stray hairs off the floor? So what if my dad arranges his socks in the drawer in neatly saluting little soldiers lined up by color and texture? So what if you can eat off my mom's kitchen floor with absolutely no fear of contamination?

Are you saying it's overkill? No, it's the life compulsively arranged in a perfectly controlled environment, where organization is the key to survival and there's no room for error.

How could I -- clumsy, eccentric, messy -- thrive in that environment? It was tough. I was the one who always left her clothes on the chair instead of putting them away before going to sleep. I was the one whose dresser drawer had a colorful palette of socks and underwear intertwined with each other or balled up in the corner behind that torn pair I never had the patience to throw away. I was the one whose closet presented a disaster of nuclear proportions where upon opening the door, you would be assaulted by fallout landing on your head from the top shelf.

Yes, that was me growing up, the emotional one, the creative one, the artistic soul, the poet, unable to keep anything orderly and organized, guided by intuition and not by logic.

Gradually I changed. I took my family's teachings to heart. The childhood wonder was replaced by careful reasoning, spontaneity by inability to make decisions. Poems were left to reminisce about. The artist was pushed deep inside and gave way to the control freak.

The success formula became about organization as the common denominator. If I'm organized, it means I can control my life. If I can control my life, it means nothing bad can happen.

When life is falling apart, the British face it with a stiff upper lip and sweet tea, the Russians drown their sorrows in vodka, the Americans practice denial through anti-depressants and we, the control freaks, clean. Our Tides to Go are the faithful little helpers on the road to the immaculately sparkling and orderly environment, which will eventually lead to the immaculately sparkling and orderly life.

As a powerful superhero, Ms. Control Freak, I raise my weapon at the assailing villain Evil Spot and shout "Take that!" I shoot soap bubbles, and Evil Spot howls in protest and then inevitably disappears.

I am always prepared.

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