Friday, September 12, 2014

Writing is a lot like sweeping

Now that Caden goes to school three days a week (three mornings a week, to be precise), I could conceivably find myself with nearly ten kid-free hours every single week. Sometimes, of course, those hours quickly fill up with actual things like photoshoots or meetings or lunch dates, but other times I find myself surprised to be sitting in an empty, quiet house.

The pressure sits heavy on my chest, I should have so much time to think, to write, to say all-of-the-things that I've been pushing to the back of my mind for a hypothetical quieter moment. Suddenly though, the blank screen, the very absence of distraction feels, well, distracting. I'm not quite sure what I want to say, or how I want to say it.

Sometimes I edit pictures for work or for pleasure. Or organize the library. And other times I read. After picking up Stephen King's On Writing, I began to notice what might be called a thematic element to a few of the things I've been reading. Not on purpose, mind you, but mainly by happenstance (if one believes in such a thing). Which sometimes seems to be the Lord's way of pointing out the stubborn things I don't always quite know how to puzzle out left to my own devices.

In his book, King says that writing is a lot more like sweeping the floor than it is like a flash of inspiration from some muse. I ponder his words while sitting in front of a blank screen, looking from my spot on the couch at a floor littered with toys and tiny legos, dust bunnies and tracked-in dirt. I sigh. And get my broom.

So instead of writing, I clean (which, as we have previously established around here, I hate loathe). I put away every single toy. Shelve books and return puzzle and game pieces to proper boxes. I stack school chairs and collect dishes.

My arm begins to ache as the kitchen takes on a shine. I run the vacuum, even mopping under the table, where splattered milk hastily wiped with paper towels has left vague residue. The problem with actually moving things to dust is mostly that you suddenly realize just how much you have left dirty by just dusting around all your decorative knick-knacks.  I also start noticing dirt even more as I clean, and before I know it I'm taking a magic eraser to the walls like a crazy-person. I have literally never before thought, "man, my walls are dirty." In the very act of scrubbing, I begin to notice the grime that has slipped through my mind often before.

All of this feels like a symbol, a metaphor for all of my life and heart. I don't think too hard about it though; mostly I am pleased by the gleaming shelves in the refrigerator. I throw away a combined total of five nearly-empty and slightly-crusty bottles of ranch dressing and hot sauce, the nectar of life around here apparently. The trash, bursting with expired salad dressing and old vegetables, gets to bulky for me to pull out of the can, and I recruit a few boys to get it safely out to the curb.

Here's the thing: I still hate cleaning. But sometimes things just need reframing as a new opportunity, as monk's work instead of mom's-work-that-I-wish-someone-else-would-just-do.

In Barbara Brown Taylor's An Altar in the World, she talks about cleaning too. About connecting with Jesus in physical labor, setting the world to rights. So I listen to hymns and worship music, and scrubbing baseboards feels almost holy. My knees bent and my back curved low, I remember my place. I seldom do this kind of work, and feeling an ache in my muscles connects me somehow viscerally to a Creator who declared it good.
Other times, though, I clean to this song instead. And then we are pretty guaranteed to dance while dusting and picking up toys. Jayci too (only the edited version of course, since I have standards), because we care deeply about healthy body image (every inch of you is perfect from the bottom to the top), and also we care deeply about a good beat. 

The other key to the whole cleaning-the-house-for-real thing that I've discovered it this: once you finish with all your cleaning, brought on by the hyper-awareness of all the dirt, you must immediately re-lower your standards. Otherwise, you will find yourself following teenage boys and just-turned-three year olds around the house cleaning up the chaos they leave in their wake. Which, of course, will irritate you and leave your satisfaction at a clean house short-lived. So for maximum enjoyment, lower your standards. You're welcome.


  1. Good words, my friend. Thank you for sharing, and for the reminder that this day-to-day "keeping of the house" is more than just...housekeeping.

    Also, on a lighter note, I had to laugh when you said "I have literally never thought 'man, my walls are dirty'" because it is the one thing that I am HYPER-aware of since Olive entered our lives...but something I would have otherwise never thought about. Now I find myself standing on chairs to reach the high spots her slobber catapults to whenever she gives her head a good shake. And as I stand there, wiping drool off the ceiling I think "is this really my life right now?"

  2. Love this. So true! And it's my favorite song:)

  3. Your words often challenge and encourage me, I am thankful for your friendship and how often I can relate to life...


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