It’s morning. I left a load of wash on the line last night. We are in the embrace of September and though I know there is some belief that letting wash stay out on the line soaks it in negative night energy, I believe that a star shine adds a little sparkle to the dark load.
Thinking about laundry is how I begin and end my day, maybe not the very first thoughts or the very last thoughts-I reserve certain prayers and cherishing for those minutes-but pretty early I am thinking about who will be looking for what illusive pair of jeans or the other sock or the perfect sweatshirt. Or I remember the load I left in the washer, ready to hang early in the morning. Or the pile of wash I will put away before I leave for yoga.
Laundry has simply become a tether to my family life, a way for me to serve them, to offer my care and frankly, my expertise. If you are relatively new at your menstrual cycle and you often forget and have stains in clothing you wish you didn’t, you want me on your team. Now that Ultimate Frisbee is an Olympic Sport, I know that laundry is not far behind. I am an Olympic level laundress.
For others the tether is cooking or baking or scheduling or paying bills. We all have domestic needs that require our attention, no matter how fancy our lives. Caring for our humanity requires a certain kind of loving care, which if done slowly and fully, provides a portal in to real life and the simple beauty of it that all the convenience in the world obscures.
Laundry is where I learned to slow down.
It was a helpful spot to discover a certain kind of mindfulness because it does not take me away from the loving care of my family, but hanging it outside takes me away from them long enough to breathe deeply and gather whatever perspective I can from my grapevines, the garlic patch and the pear tree.
I wonder if there is some domestic task that you do, the pleasure of which transports you in to a deeper level of joy? Warp and weft, texture and color, random bits of tissue stuck to another black dress of my daughter’s, all these things cause me to look more closely at my life and see the finer details.
I have just put down Pandora’s Jar, for it was a jar, not a box that the first woman, according to Greek mythology, opened.
My Pandora’s Jar is one full of smoke and mirrors, the jar labeled Social Media for Authors, which is a bottomless container and spreads the odor of not-enough on the one holding the Jar.
I am not interested in spending hundreds of dollars building my Twitter following.
I am not interested in streamlining my branding. Okay, I can see the value in that. My readers here may be a bit confused by my cluttered presentation. I can get interested.
But the rest of it? The numbers, the SEO calculations, the Google+ing just makes me nuts and like Pandora, who was terrified that she’d incur the wrath of none other than Zeus, her father, when he found she’d done the forbidden thing and opened the jar, I am terrified that if I don’t launch myself in to the deeper waters of Social Media to promote my work as a writer, attract more readers to Laundry Line Divine, find conferences wishing to host me as Rampant Sisterhood, find venues for readings of and reviewers for An Anthology of Babes: 36 Women Give Motherhood a Voice…if I don’t do all that and more…I will just be one woman, here, telling my story at the kitchen table to my laptop. The last of the zinnias and roses in the pitcher down at the end of this table nod in the light fall breeze, yes, yes, they are interested.
But are you?
I had to extract myself from my computer desk where I had pledged to stay only two hours, but it was almost into the 4th hour and lunchtime was upon me. I put soup on the stove and took a bag of chips (okay, black bean chips, gluten free and salty) out to look at my laundry, a set of sheets and a shirt found tangled up in the sheets, which are floating in that same light fall breeze. The sun plays with the blues. The white sheet is luminous, like a painting of a sail, only this is real, right before me, woven threads bearing the blaze of sunlight, moving sinuously on the cotton line, held on by wooden pins.
This is what I do. This is who I am. I write as a woman who is a full time mother and artist. I wage a daily battle with distraction by keeping company with my ordinary tasks. They are mundane, but they allow me an entry point to beauty and grace. They ground me. Once I am here, breathing fully, I can go back to my collage canvas or to an empty white page or a class plan in my workbook and carve my own path amidst the chaos of daily life. I am making my own way and the laundry helps me.
It also connects me to my mom who was radical in her love of laundry. Even as she lost her memory, she recorded in her daybook, “I don’t recall what I did today, but I must have done laundry.” When I was home last week, debating what to do with four heavy boxes of her correspondence and daybooks and notes, I restrung the wash line. I know enough to order my day around doing wash. As a mother, this is practical. As a writer, it is necessary.
This morning I hung clothes and sheets on a clothesline. Today, in particular, this evoked a deep connection to my Nana Anna and my Aunt Bess and the old Bubbie, my great grandmother – all long gone. As a child I stood among these fierce Jewish women and watched them hanging clothes and then quickly and efficiently reeling them out on a line. This was a time when Jewish families in the suburbs of Boston still lived schtetl-style, as they did in Russia before the war; the space was shared and the laundry hung over backyard concrete with just a hint of grass. The sound: full-bodied laughter of women over the squeak of the pulley as the clothes were pulled in and out; the smell: strong scent of perpetually cooking Eastern European food: kishke, kasha varnishkes, kreplach, kugel, borscht. (There are no men in this story; this is a story of women.) Today, as I hung sheets out to dry in Hawaii, thousands of miles away from that clothesline of my youth, I was reminded of those women I loved, and of that long ago kitchen where they most often gathered. In my memory they’re speaking Yiddish and singing and laughing so hard that they can’t catch their breath, and every once in a while a clothespin goes flying… I pick it up, grateful to be an eight-year-old witness to their joyous celebration of this day-to-day routine. This morning, it was the act of putting a wooden clothespin in my mouth that reminded me where I came from. xxxx
The laundry part of a mother’s life, whether you are leaning in with a squad of nannies and maids scrubbing collars or swinging the basket of wash yourself in between all the other jobs you hold, is ubiquitous. We all do it. The world over, as my friend Catherine Anderson witnesses in her photographs from Italy this fall. What Beth captures in her memory, we all live, the hands shaking out wet sleeves, stretching sheets to dry in the sun. What has been done for us, we can do for others.
And laundry persists, even in the lives of men who do their own wash, whether because of gender or job description or by lifestyle, the laundry gets done. During the government shutdown, my National Park Ranger friend Todd hung his wash, ever the green live-r and ever aware of the grace provided by this simple chore. I trust Todd was comforted in this industrious act of self-care while he waited for his job at the Liberty Bell in Philadelphia to be restored.
This morning I read a piece about writing and motherhood by Janelle Hanchett on www.allparenting.com. She responded to the view that in order to become a writer, you have to travel the world alone to find what is interesting about life. Janelle relates that after being at home with her three children, she recovered her writing voice.
“I don’t think there is more to life “out there” than there is right here.”
Here, for Janelle, is being home with three kids.
Here, in my case, is being home with one kid away at pre-college and one kid in the hallway, bounding in to my studio to print her journalism report. She is wearing the very shirt that was drying on the line just an hour ago, when I got distracted from writing the first lines of this piece, back, when I was recovering from the overwhelm of Social Media, the fuggy smoke contained in Pandora’s Jar.
What was caught under the lid of Pandora’s Jar, the saving grace for her and for all of us women in a mythological sense, was hope. For me, hope, which is a connection to the goodness of the past and the possibility of the future, is these ordinary stories, of laundry and the people who do it. Please find a new Out of the Mouths of Babes blog writer, whose stories fuel her with hope and some amazing music. Raina Rose leads off the resurrection of the blog series, with many stories by other women to follow. Jennifer Gandin Le sent me Barbara’ Crooker’s poem, Ordinary Day this morning, which seems written for all of us, especially Raina because of the cheese grater. Just read it and you will get my reference. Thank you JGLe.
So, this is my life. Tweet about it if you like.
I will be listening for the birds in the early morning and letting those tweets be enough for me today.
The other 29,999 Twitter followers I should have, according to those who set standards for new writers in Social Media, will have to wait.
I have wash to hang.
This was a day when nothing happened,
the children went off to school
without a murmur, remembering
their books, lunches, gloves.
All morning, the baby and I built block stacks
in the squares of light on the floor.
And lunch blended into naptime,
I cleaned out kitchen cupboards,
one of those jobs that never gets done,
then sat in a circle of sunlight
and drank ginger tea,
watched the birds at the feeder
jostle over lunch’s little scraps.
A pheasant strutted from the hedgerow,
preened and flashed his jeweled head.
Now a chicken roasts in the pan,
and the children return,
the murmur of their stories dappling the air.
I peel carrots and potatoes without paring my thumb.
We listen together for your wheels on the drive.
Grace before bread.
And at the table, actual conversation,
no bickering or pokes.
And then, the drift into homework.
The baby goes to his cars, drives them
along the sofa’s ridges and hills.
Leaning by the counter, we steal a long slow kiss,
tasting of coffee and cream.
The chicken’s diminished to skin & skeleton,
the moon to a comma, a sliver of white,
but this has been a day of grace
in the dead of winter,
the hard knuckle of the year,
a day that unwrapped itself
like an unexpected gift,
and the stars turn on,
into the winter night.
We, women, mothers, artists, are fabricating a new archeology by creating art from the immediacy of our daily lives. In celebrating these acts, by harnessing the massive power of women’s voices- muffled for centuries and strengthening daily, by telling just how it is for you and me telling just how it is for me, we construct something not meant to compost with the banana peels, but to reside in our collective memory and to be carried on.
Lori Landau commented on that post. She has become a very dear friend. Lori took the photograph of these slips in the home of her artist friend Heidi in California. This capture just tantalizes me beyond measure. Lori has an art exhibit this month, showing in Wyckoff, New Jersey. Here are the details.
I will be reading a piece of Laundry Line Divine: A Wild Soul Book for Mothers at The Mount- yes, Edith Wharton’s estate here in the Berkshires at this event for the Berkshire Festival of Women Writers. Here are more details.
What I heard in my meditation this morning: Engage with Praise
plum skin or flesh?
sun warmed back
the perfume of that hosta
canang suri or sari?
canang sari all the same
ordinary life goes brilliant with gratitude
hanging wash to stretch
hanging wash to step away and out
hanging wash to dry it
captivated by the place I am building in my 1000 words-a-day story
a woman who speaks in phrases from children’s books
a woman who is lost
a woman who is found
Miranda posting a meme
Finding myself so joyful
How do you engage with praise?
Do you praise others (hi there, oh my gosh I love the way you just jumped for joy!)?
Do you like to be praised?
We so readily give praise to little kids and animals. Somehow we stop, once a person is big enough to be responsible for making sure they do what you expect of them, the valve for praise slowing closes. I think this is why grandparents and aunts and uncles are so cherished by kids, the praise valve has not closed with them. (I know we all have stories about crabby elders, but mostly, I am talking mostly, grands of all sorts still have open praise valves for grandchildren) I notice how short I am with praise for my teenagers who so routinely tick me off. I have had to shift and offer praise, like salt AND pepper…. not just momguidanceadvisedirectiondemands but also warm attentive compassionate praise.
l love receiving praise. Unexpected praise. Praise from people who don’t know me well so they are less likely to be lying in order to make me feel better and stop asking them for praise. I like the spontaneous praise-“hey, I like your hair!” from the checkout person at the grocery who has seen me in late winter and knows from whence this hair comes. I love the praise that comes in love letters and notes and postcards, my cherished missives from my soulful community of mail artists. I love you. Lulu. That is praise of a sort because it reflects all the light of that being (Lulu) on me. And that, somehow, is praise to me.
Right about now, some writers would be reaching for a Wikipedia definition of praise and tell you which famous people like praise. Don’t all famous people like praise because that is what makes them famous?
I think we could all do with a little more praise in our days.
Not only for the people in our life, the kid who brings you your teacup, the husband who does the soccer pick-up, the sister how remembers your birthday, but for the world around us.
I’d like us all to raise our praise.
Raising our praise. Engaging with praise.
If this makes you nervous, if you hear your mother telling you not to get too big for your britches, as I sometimes do when I am flushed with a moment of praise, then just stay with me for a little while.
Praise the light of late November,
the thin sunlight that goes deep in the bones.
Praise the crows chattering in the oak trees;
though they are clothed in night, they do not
despair. Praise what little there’s left:
the small boats of milkweed pods, husks, hulls,
shells, the architecture of trees. Praise the meadow
of dried weeds: yarrow, goldenrod, chicory,
the remains of summer. Praise the blue sky
that hasn’t cracked yet. Praise the sun slipping down
behind the beechnuts, praise the quilt of leaves
that covers the grass: Scarlet Oak, Sweet Gum,
Sugar Maple. Though darkness gathers, praise our crazy
fallen world; it’s all we have, and it’s never enough.
this poem appears by permission of the author
from her beautiful book of poetry titled Radiance Word Press, 2005
See how Barbara’s praise of otherwise run-on-the-mill weeds and stuff raises it to a miracle before our very eyes?
~ by Suzi Banks Baum after Barbara Crooker June 25, 2012
Praise lumps of clay pinched in to breasts and dimpled thighs.
Praise teeth and the yielding fuzz of peach.
Praise all dogs for I love them not,
but praise them anyway because others do.
Praise the praying mantis, dervish, scribe and washerwoman.
What I want to get to here, in praising, is that in order to praise, you must slow down.
Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow, does not just happen automatically.
You are missing the point of that song and that prayer and every other invitation to praise if you are mouthing empty meaningless words.
When I stop, I begin to see praiseworthy right here in my little life as a full-time Mom on a short street in a small town in a mighty state, in this complex and marvelous country.
When I stop I see the blush on a plum.
I smell the perfume of the common, everyone-has-them-and-what-is-that-smell hostas that are truly gorgeous and unless you bend over and sniff at their open invitations, you will miss them.
The same goes with your kids.
Or your mate.
Until you stop, put on your glasses if you must, and look in to the deep pools of their eyes, you will miss the small stuff you aren’t supposed to be sweating.
Please, okay, don’t sweat the small stuff, but would you at least see it? For here, in the ordinary is our extraordinary life.
How our hands work, joints, ligaments, pulse popping up over my wrist bone.
How your mate’s eyebrows meet in the middle.
How your child’s nose is changing has they mature, so much so you begin to see your elegant grandmother’s profile in your budding teen ager.
How all the day long we brush past the marvels at our fingertips looking for the big, flashy marvels that arrive with a lot of noise and smoke and glitter, that come riding in with rings on their fingers and bells on toes.
Those things are great. Sure.
But they won’t sustain a sense of utter amazement. Those big splashy events speed us up. They don’t lead you to slowing down which I am positively 100% scientifically sure will lead you to praise. Then gratitude. And then, like Christian Wiman, editor of Poetry Magazine, says about poetry, but I like to take is as for praise:
Let us remember…that in the end we go to poetry for one reason, so that we might more fully inhabit our lives and the world in which we live them, and that if we more fully inhabit these things, we might be less apt to destroy both.
Praise to the washerwomen.
People always are incredulous when I mention I hang my wash outside.
Surely, I could just squash my huge loads of laundry in to the dryer. Some days, that is all I can do. But most days, I hang it outside because the act of hauling a heavy basket (oh, it is good for my core and my abs) allows me to step out of my life in this house, out of the fray of family and duties, and in to the backyard, where all sorts of things are happening year round. Stepping out there to pin socks and pants and sheets on a cotton rope to dry in the sun slows me way down and I have mental space, spiritual space, sensual space, and physical space to breathe.
A few grapes left on the vines.
Soil needs turning in the garlic patch.
Glistening drops of last night’s rain on the elderberry.
Heavy pears weighting the branches down for deer to eat.
I notice my skin.
My tan big hands.
My lower back.
And I take a moment to stretch or hula-hoop or swing on the swing.
And I return to my family or my work or whatever I have going a little saner and more ready to see the wonder around me.
From that point, I can take what I have seen in to my writing or not.
I might never tell you about the dragonfly that stood stock still for an hour here at my side on the railing where I am writing, where it waited for the sun to warm the air enough for it to fly off, but not before I got to look at it closely.
Praise the marvel of the wings of a dragonfly, which are fitted for flight and fitted for drawing because of how all those tiny lines fit together within the shape of each wing.
I might not ever put that in to my work, but it resides in me, feeds me and brings me joy. What better way to meet the work of the world, of growing my self and this family and our service in the world? Doing the work we were made for.
My work is in loving the world, says Mary Oliver.
That is how praising works for me.
I slow down.
I see it.
I share it.
It changes me.
Thank you to Barbara Crooker for permission to reprint your beautiful poem, which stands in my imagination as a very certain day in the fall. I praise you Barbara for all your work in the world, your books filled with poems, which ask us all to notice and in noticing, we praise.