The soft water hiss from the faucet, wet droplets of liquid catching the sunset light--red, slowly dimming--shooting through the window above the sink; the damp, wrinkled feel of slow, circling, pruny hands. The smell of chemical pine.
Doing the dishes is numinous. And cleaning in general, for that matter. Bringing of order and cleanlieness to something disorganized, dirty, stacked like the leaning tower of Pisa, perilous to fall. Order from of chaos. In the beginning the dishes were without form, dirty. Flies hovered over the stagnant waters. And he said, Let them be washed. And they were washed.
I like systems. Paradigms. I like the world to make sense to me. Who doesn't, I suppose. I've always had a relentless desire to pigeonhole the world, to see it exhibit itself to me neatly, clean, organized into some sort of a cogent system I can understand and manipulate. To understand the fundamental principal that governs the cosmos around and the cosmos inside. A system I can fit myself into and exist with a small star to call my own.
I think that's why I enjoy cleaning so much. If my rooms are clean, I can understand them, fit into them. When things have a place, a home, and when they go where they're supposed to go they're easily accessible, fit into smaller spaces, and don't get in the way of my progression throughout the day.
Mental systems, for me, are the same.
Every day each of us takes in thousands of images (a deer snatching leaves from a branch, a red bicycle with a golden bell), countless sounds (the hiss of cooking pancakes, a 5 a.m. train), tastes (pancakes, blackberries), smells (a blown out candle, honey chamomile tea), and profuse bits of information we glean from books, poems, conversations, television shows, etc.
With so much information flowing through our sensorium, it's helpful to have someplace to put everything. Like in a house: when we obtain a new item, it's helpful to have a location for it. Cupboards labelled with small white pieces from the label maker, transparent plastic tubes and bags with big, permanent-marker scrawls on top indicating the contents, book shelves dedicated to disparate genres (unless you're a postmodernist and into the whole post-genre thing, in which you probably organize by color), rooms for beds, rooms for Cutco knives, rooms for bath salts, soft-bristle toothbrushes, and pink fluffy loofas. Systems, even if misguided, are certainly practical.
Yet, occasionally, that new item enters our home that refuses to be pigeonholed into our organizational system. That new Ford F150 that is just too fat for our garage bulged with Husqvarna power tools. The poofy, puffy, big-boned sofa that just won't (damnit) fit through the door into the back living room where we'd planned for it to go. The hot tub we want installed to feel the small, bubble-filled jets dig into our lower backs, that's just too-damn big for the bathroom. And so we say: let the reorganization begin.
Yet, reorganizing is never clean. We've all our items strewn out across the house like loose leaf paper across a desk: no system, no organization, all disturbed to accommodate that new item we brought into our home. Hubby is asking where his power saw is, little Freida
wants her favourite Teddy (which is buried somewhere in the torn up garage storage boxes) and the boss just called wanting those reports which, well, may have been used in the chaos by Freida to draw little pictures of Barney in the clouds with the Carebears. Stuff's everywhere.
And it's always invasive. We have so many things to do: parties to plan, meals to cook, work for our husband to do in the garage with the power tools, relatives and friends and homeless we want to invite to stay in our spare rooms. Yet, in order to accommodate the new item, this process of reorganization is essential, inescapable. All contingent tasks must be put on hold until the process is complete, or, at least, a temporary system can be instituted while the remodelling/reorganizing is in-progress.
Now, anyone who feels threatened by such an upsetting destruction of their domestic system may think twice about keeping the invading item. Such individuals are often quite intelligent. Couches can always be returned, if the reorganization process is frustrating enough.
However, (and here's where the metaphor breaks down) in mental systems, some things can never be returned. In real life, you cant un-know something, no matter how hard you close your eyelids, roll the eyes into the back of your skull, and scrunch your nose in tenacious defiance of reality. information can never be forgotten, it can only be suppressed. Doing such is self-deception. And who wishes upon themselves the title of insincere?
Modern culture tells us to talk. Speak up! Be Bold! Cast your Vote! You have a voice! Garrulity, good. Reflexivity, pensiveness, weakness. Silent, contemplative individuals are often seen as indecisive and impractical to society.
In college, students study in an atmosphere hot with the expectation to produce, to use their crafts learned to speak, to say something worthwhile. Poets, publish verse; filmmakers, direct shorts and films with profound existential meaning; scientists, perform research and publish studies. If you don't speak, you haven't learned, or so it seems to eager young minds.
As a result, we live in a room with a thousand voices. Rush Limbough on the radio, Richard Dawkins, Kay Ryan, Josh McKinney, Terrence Hays, William Lane Craig in books and poems, Ellen and Opera and Larry King and Stephen Colbert on the television, all screaming, all yelling "I have something to say!" Voices reverberate and coalesce and conflict and contrast, bouncing between walls, echoing across floors and ceilings. The result is deafening.
All this yelling causes the reflexive to wonder: why are we, as students, young academics, and simply callow individuals in general, just coming into the world, fresh out of high-school, college, adolescence, with so little practical and intellectual erudition to confirm our opinions, expected to speak with so much vehemance, passion, confidence, and voice, through the practical languages we study and learn? We are a generation so obsessed with learning how to say something (voice, pen, poem, prose, technical craft, political rhetoric, etc.) we neglect self-reflection on what to say.
And what a terrible prospect! How horrible to become the best, most-perfect, most-convincing propagator of the basest, most incorrect opinions!
How many times have we looked back at callow convictions held in previous life stages and wished we could gag our previous selves! How many times have we become disillusioned to past fondly-held opinions we were, previously, so gosh-darn sure about! How many ignorant fellow seekers, children, friends have we misled through our often under-thought or simply inherited opinions?
A deep brick indentation into the mahogany wall, iridescent light. Red, curving tips of flame flick like whips from the fireplace logs. Long shadows of furniture across the otherwise dim room. A taxidermied moose head with heavy shadows darkening the sockets around its pitch-black marble eyes. A pot of Camomile on the end table to my right, steam rising from the point of the curved, china neck; the bulged, black-stencilled body and handle.
Around the living room, my cardboard boxes are stacked, some half-unpacked, some still taped entirely closed. Papers are tossed on the ground like fifty-card pickup mess. Typewriters, hoses, exercise bikes, black and red cushy reclining chairs. From the rooms off the hall, profuse items spill into the semi-cleared hallway. Tables are covered with candles, laptop cases, small, meticulously-designed ship models with cloth sails and balsa-wood hulls.
The dishes are undone, stacked higher than the cupboards, leaned, orbited by flies flitting on and off, dabbing the dirty plates and bowls and spoons with their small proboscis.
I need to clean. To function in such a mess, to me, is a small room, closing in, the walls pushing smaller and smaller.
Yet, I will not refuse more items. Such a denial is both impossible and impractical. My goal will not be simply to clean the home, but to institute a system which invites and has room for all items that may some day find their way into my abode.
Further, I will not invite many others to live in my spare rooms until I have reorganized. I know, the homeless are waiting. However, to invite a homeless into a room fraught with workout benches, rugs rolled and stacked, mousetraps, broken beer bottles, is a disservice to my guests. Yes, such dangers can never be entirely avoided, to be sure. However, I have a long life and some time spent cleaning now, instituting a quality organizational system will eliminate accidents later in life, I think.
So I will clean in silence, for a time. I will listen to the sink's soft water hiss and demand none join me.
Some day, I hope, my home will be clean enough to have ragged, dirty boots stain the entry way. Brown smears on a wide, fluffy doormat, painted with a large 'Welcome!," large letters set into the cozy, inviting, otherwise clean and prisine small carpet strands. But for now, I clean. Order will come to my home. I will enjoy the red, silent sunset reflected from the soap drops in the meanwhile.