After Ecstasy, the Laundry: Ignore Your Chores And Write!

Just let it go....

I recently came across a list of resolutions by Robyn Mellom.  She is a writer, so, as one would expect, the list was largely writing related—designed to increase her productivity, as she had several deadlines to meet. One of the key items on the list–or at least an important component of it–had to do with ignoring her laundry. That’s a funny thing on a list of resolutions about productivity.  Laundry is such an essential part of the average productive person’s life.  Okay, I don’t really have statistics on that, but most of us wear clothes, so, it follows….

Learning how to ignore these seemingly important tasks is important and much, much more difficult than it sounds. Because here’s the thing about writing: It involves sitting.  For long periods of time. Sitting and sometimes achieving nothing at all. Or precious little. If you’re sitting in your home, you might pause as you are trying to think of what to say next. As you are pausing your eye has occasion to roam around the grungy kitchen you are in (okay, my eye has occasion to do this, I’m sure your kitchen is perfectly free of grunge). Being productive, at least from my early conditioning, does not involve quite so much sitting. It does not mean ignoring a room full of chores that would be perfectly conspicuous to any unexpected guest. It does not mean not doing the laundry. It involves scrubbing and lifting and sorting and running. And ticking things off a list. But if I start doing the laundry now, I will not finish this sentence. That phone call all but did it in.  As did the dishwasher I just loaded.  And the dirty counter has me teetering on the brink.  We have to ignore it all. We have to learn to be indulgent to certain slothful tendencies. All day long I struggle not to become distracted by chores I have to finish, exercise I have to do later, the instant gratification of something easily accomplished.  It’s a means I have to console myself for the tremendous anxiety that sitting in the chair produces. I have to learn to make the chair my friend. I have to love the chair. But I can’t.  We have an uneasy and tenuous relationship, the chair and I.

My mom was always working when I was younger. It’s not like she was this intensely driven career woman or anything like that. But she was dedicated to her job, and she was the one who kept our household running. She was the practical one. She handled the money and logistics for nearly everything. My father worked hard, but he was a bit dreamy. Less given to practicality, more indulgent to hobbies like playing guitar, collecting mushrooms and drawing silly cartoons–sometimes not at the most convenient times.  So I appreciated my mom. But I took after my dad more.  When I had to clean my room, I started to read old letters and comic books. When I was supposed to do the dishes, I chatted with my friend, who was waiting impatiently for me to finish so we could play together.  At some point in my young adulthood, I reprogrammed myself to some extent. I still have a hard time finishing or even starting certain things, but at some point I embraced the clear progress that’s apparent in regular old work.  The floor is swept when there is no longer dirt on it. The laundry is finished when it’s folded in piles in our drawers (or let’s face it, sometimes even when it’s folded in stacks on my bed—that’s the transitory finished. We can always just pick it up from the pile and wear it.  Saves a step).

But this will not be finished when I reach the bottom of the page necessarily. It will not even be finished when I stop typing. Not when I come up with some neat little concluding sentence. I will have to look at it tomorrow. I will have to show it to my husband. I will have to throw it away altogether possibly.  It’s not like the laundry!  It may never be done. And even if it is, how will I know? When can I stop typing and sort socks, for crying out loud!

It’s hard to dispel the anxiety of this choice, as you can see. But I think the secret is this:  You just need create your own parameters. You have to determine a certain task, create some guidelines for accomplishing it and some kind of flag for knowing when it’s finished.  You need to let yourself off the hook for letting that pile of linen accumulate a day longer. And you need to allow yourself moments of “slacking off”–following that chain of links into cyberspace, reading the comic book, watching Shaun Tan’s The Lost Thing.  But again, this needs to have its guidelines. I will read this for 25 minutes as a reward for one hour of working on this scene, revising this picture book, reworking this dialogue.  I will chat with Bethany for 15 minutes after I finish the opening two pages of this chapter.  I will shop for my vacation bathing suit after I come up with ten possible endings for this picture book with no ending. I will read this article on how to write the perfect young adult novel after I come up with twelve perfect rhymes for pituitary.

Most importantly, you need to let yourself off the hook for not reaching every benchmark of productivity on a daily basis. Some days will be more prolific then others.  And after you’ve been banging your head against the screen for a couple of hours, with nary page to show for it. Well, just go do the freaking laundry. You’ll never enjoy it so much.

One Comment

  1. Posted March 17, 2011 at 3:55 pm | Permalink

    Well said!

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  1. [...] I cherish the flexibility of my current freelance lifestyle, which enables me to work at home, pick up my children after school, take them to after-school activities, and take (unpaid) holidays that suit my family members’ schedules. Lately, my husband has had a particularly busy workload, so I’ve been picking up the slack at home. Now, he covers one after-school pick up per week as a way to compensate my time. I’ve been amazed at how much more writing I can accomplish on those days—that is, if I manage to ignore the household chores screaming to be done. (See [...]

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