If I learned one thing while writing my dissertation, it was the value of doing the dishes. I mean, sure, I also learned something about the history of women’s civic work and a little bit about getting my thoughts on paper, but mostly the key lesson was the one about the dishes. When a girl is faced with a multi-year task that seems too daunting to contemplate, an empty sink and a pile of clean dishes can be marvelous things. To paraphrase my favorite Vietnamese Buddhist monk, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can only occur when you aren’t doing them; if one really pays attention to the warm soapy water and the feel of the sponge and the shape of a spoon, the dishes and the fact that one is standing there washing them are miracles.
So here I am, facing a multi-year task that seems too daunting to contemplate—namely identifying what I want for myself, not for the entire forty years or so I have to fill (bloody hell), but at least in the immediate future—and I think it’s time to do some dishes. And the vacuuming. And some laundry. It’s time for a good spring cleaning.
This house, this little yellow house that another chose but which has become mine, is filled with hefty bags full of emotional garbage. I peek in one and find piles of uncertainty. Another is bulging with dashed dreams and the remains of a broken heart. Under the bed I spy giant dust bunnies composed of dog hair and my self-doubts. Fingerprints on the mirror spell out “I am not worthy,” and some wag has written “You’re getting old” in the dust on the bookshelves. There is a drawer in the kitchen stuffed full of random batteries, brittle rubber bands, and mismatched bits of my self-confidence. I'm living like a hoarder, surrounded by stacks of failures and fears.
But there are treasures here, too. A tiny perfect bowl tucked in a corner holds my sense of humor. Somewhere in the back of the closet is a file folder containing my ability to create opportunity. My willingness to dance in the middle of the street is neatly folded away and just needs some airing. If I got rid of this other crap, if I made some space, perhaps these things could find a place out in the open. If I just polished and pressed them, they could go on display so that I saw them every time I passed through the room.
And so, this weekend I shall don some gloves and some old work pants. I’ll pull out the broom and the dustpan, and I’ll arm myself with cleansers and towels and scrubbing sponges. I’ll finally pull the last of the dead things from the garden. I’ll clean the windows, and make a trip to the Goodwill. I am going to focus, and breathe, and concentrate wholly on doing the dishes.