Awhile ago there was a blogger who wrote as Professor Me (IIRC); some of you no doubt remember her, or even have the password to her blog. As I recall her blog, it was very appealing, and I read it with the sort of attention and wilfully suspended disbelief that I usually reserve for space opera. She couldn’t get down to academic work until the kitchen was clean, so every night after cooking dinner for her husband and adorable child, she cleaned up and scrubbed the sink, then settled down to writing or class prep.
I loved that image of the clean, tidy, orderly setting for the life of the orderly and productive mind.
At the same time, I noticed that it was achieved at the cost of a fairly traditional division of household labor. The husband was handy at doing household repairs and remodeling, but only the wife cleaned the kitchen.
Now, if it were possible to leave dishes of milk out and attract a brownie who would clean the kitchen every night, I’d go for it, and risk the cats getting diarrhea if they got to the milk first. I guess it would fall to the brownie to clean up, anyway: dude, them’s the breaks if you’re late to work.
But in the absence of brownies, my life is much messier, in all respects, as well as more egalitarian. No one around here is at all handy (except maybe Basement Cat, and we are lucky that he still finds the lack of opposable thumbs a considerable handicap), so if the house needs fixing up, we hire someone else to do it. We share laundry. Sir John shops for groceries, because I hate shopping in all its forms (no, I have no idea where all the shoes came from; maybe some brownie dropped them off). I pay the bills. I cook. Sir John handles the dishes.
Some readers might justly recall David Lodge’s novel Nice Work, in which Robyn Penrose says, “I quite like washing up, it’s therapeutic,” and Vic Wilcox replies, “You don’t seem to need therapy very often.”
The thing is, however you divide the work, you can’t micromanage each other. So tonight I moved some dirty dishes aside to wash vegetables, put a cutting board down over this morning’s newspaper so I could chop them, and got on with the cooking. And then I left the dishes and prepared the guest lecture I have to give tomorrow morning.
This was all clearer in my head when I wrote it as I was cooking dinner. Post-lecture prep, it’s gone fuzzy and the logic is lousy or missing entirely. But it’s supposed to be a sort of meditation on the differences between what we expect or think we want and what our actions show that we really value, and about letting go of expectations. I want to make it clear that I’m not complaining. I sometimes fantasize about a self-cleaning kitchen, but I don’t want it enough to do it myself, or even enough to hire our cleaner for some extra hours. The dishes get done sooner or later, the cleaner scrubs the sink once a week, and that’s good enough. What I do want is home-cooked food (because I am greedy and like my own cooking), and time to do my work, and the ability to think of household work as shared responsibility, not just mine.
Also, I guess, I liked the chance to live vicariously a little, to imagine that someone has time and energy to both clean the kitchen and get the real work done.