In which I’m a domestic goddess.
When I got up this morning — and when I say ‘morning’ you should read ‘afternoon,’ because I didn’t get up until twelve-thirty — I already had dinner planned and was resolved to wash the bed linens.
I stretched lightly in bed, then got up and did a few more stretches on the floor. Then I opened the blinds, threw on some sweats, stripped the bed and filled the laundry basket.
In the living room, I opened the blinds and let the sunshine in. Then I booted up my laptop and the cube speaker and put on some contemplative chants. OM, bitches!
In the kitchen, I started up a small sink of dishes, washed the sauce pot, and put the soaking white beans on the stove to simmer.
The sun was shining in such a way that I was also forced to scrub the stove, the refrigerator, the counters, and the sink backsplash. (At night, when I usually do the dishes, the kitchen looks clean, but in broad sunny daylight it revealed itself to be a disaster. Like college kids live here. Ewh.)
So I got out that spray bottle of green stuff that smells kinda good and scrubbed stuff.
I even scrubbed the floor beside the stove, where a strip of greasy dirtiness has been accumulating for awhile. Ewh.
Eyeing the laundry basket in the hall where I’d dropped it on my way into the kitchen, I grabbed quarters out of the junk drawer and hauled the basket of laundry upstairs to the laundry room and got it started.
Then I made myself a latte, because that’s a damn good hour’s work, if you ask me.
I feel fantastic. I’m happy. This is the best. Somehow, the asshole program that schedules my store fucked up and gave me three glorious days off in a row, so I’m actually rested and my feet don’t hurt and I’m not irritated. I popped out of bed happy and ready to clear things off my domestic to-do list, and I’m doing chores because today I can do them with a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction rather than fatigue and resentment.
This is how it’s supposed to feel.
No one will ever tell you that scrubbing the handle of the fridge door is profoundly fulfilling in and of itself, because it’s not, and neither is laundry or toilet scrubbing, but it does need to be done and it’s so much nicer to do it happily and easily rather than with that tinge of embarrassment and exhaustion you feel when you’re working full-time and it’s just gotten so bad you have to do it before the plumber comes over even though you’re too tired to care.
As someone who has spent more time unemployed in the past decade than you’re supposed to, I can tell you unequivocally that no, you never get bored of not having to go to work. You do not feel uninvolved or useless — broke, maybe, but not like your life has lost all meaning.
You never get sick of leisure time, of being organized, of being on top of your shit, of having energy to spend on yourself, on what you want. You don’t find that you miss making money for other people at the expense of having clean cupboards, or that you miss being stressed out about work over the enjoyment of your own home-cooked meals.
Anybody who tells you that you need to work in order to feel fulfilled is simply defending the fact that they have to work themselves. Beyond our bullshit shared cultural myth, there is no evidence that anybody likes working, that anybody likes putting their own needs and happiness on hold, instead spending nearly two-thirds of their life attending to a company’s cancerous needs instead.
When you’re working, that fridge door handle gets and stays dirtier because you just can’t be bothered. You do feel bad about it, because it’s gross and lazy to have food stuck to your fridge, but you just can’t afford to let it get onto your radar. There’s just too much stuff like that: the piles of junk on the floors of your closets, the wall in the living room that somebody sneezed all over during cold season that still needs to be wiped down, the linens that need to be aired out on the line before the fold lines become permanent, the fact that the duvet hasn’t been dry cleaned in years because you just never have both the time and the money to get it done.
The friends you don’t have time to really be there for. The volunteering you’re not doing. The creative urges you’re ignoring. The half-assed way you interact with your one and only family. The ways in which you would give if only you weren’t using that energy to get money to pay for the basics of living.
When you’ve never been unemployed, you’re aware of the things you’re not getting done and you feel lazy, like a failure, but you’re so tired and your house has never been that clean so it’s normal for you. You assume other people get their duvets dry cleaned more than once a decade and that they probably have tidier closets than you, but you don’t really know.
But then you spend a few stints being gloriously unemployed and eventually you discover a wonderful thing: a mental and physical place in which you finally get rested up enough to tackle all the stuff on your mental domestic to-do list, and you get it done easily and without strain, and you’re organized and rested and happy and you feel useful and fantastic.
And also resentful, because you know this shit is important, but your culture doesn’t value it. It just judges you for not being able to work full-time and be an excellent housekeeper.
You know it’s important to take care of your linens so that they last a long time and you’re not wasting money on replacements. You know it’s important to cook thoughtful, thrifty, delicious meals and eat at home, for health and financial as well as psychological reasons. It’s important to keep your home clean and coherent and organized, for mental and physical health reasons and because knowing where things are and being able to easily get to them could be important in an emergency.
But nobody will pay for all this stuff, so it’s not valuable. Important, yes, but absolutely not valuable. You’re supposed to do these things on the side, for free, around your “real” job of making money for other people in return for just enough to pay your rent. But everybody will understand if you don’t get them all done, because they’re not valuable to anyone. Except you, and even you don’t care enough to handle it, right?
So work that job and let your linen rot; you can buy new. (Actually, it’s better for the economy if you replace everything all the time, right? Isn’t that the model we’ve decided upon: infinite growth and infinite waste?) Eat frozen dinners and bad restaurant food, and to hell with your health. Try to prevent anybody, ever, from looking into your closets or cupboards; you have every intention of organizing them as soon as you have time, but right now they’re just embarrassing.
Spend most of your waking hours feeling vaguely angry, lazy, and behind on things. Your social life, your creative life, your societal service goals. Hell, you haven’t studied something just to know it since you got hired. Realize that, for example, the Japanese have more savings and less expectation of free time than you do, and proceed to feel guilty about deciding to spend your entire day off on the couch, unbathed, with chores left undone. After all, chores can wait. They’re not valuable. Nobody cares if every house in America is dirty.
If nobody’s willing to pay for something, it doesn’t matter. Period. While organized closets are impressive, they’re not valuable. Society has decided that the accumulation of money under any circumstances is more important than a nation of organized, clean homes with good food and happy people in them. (Some people do pay other people to organize their closets, but that doesn’t do me any good. What I’m talking about is me organizing my closets, which involves no financial transactions.)
I resent that my culture so little values things I think are important. I hate that our laundry isn’t done, that I don’t have a freezer full of homemade food, and that the front closet is a mess. I resent being too tired nearly all of the time to cook and clean to my own standards. I resent working for pay, while the work I feel is important — clean house, good attitude, good food — has no value to my society and therefore nobody pays me for it. So I blow it all off in favor of making money for white men I’ve never even met in return for a non-living wage, a shitty schedule, and a mild but permanent sense of enraged failure.
Do you know how many times you have to be unemployed before you quit trying to tell yourself you’re unfulfilled? Do you know how long it takes to recover from full-time employment (of any kind, from crappy wage-slave jobs to engineering jobs you’re genuinely interested in) enough to feel good and spontaneously do things just because you want to?
Once I took a road trip with a group of home-schoolers. One of the moms told me it took, on average, six months — nearly an entire school year — for any child pulled out of public school to become authentically interested in learning again. After that, given the resources, they’d teach themselves, she said, “because everyone loves to learn. It’s just part of human nature.”
After about six months of post-layoff sloth and debauchery, you start doing chores. Without resentment. For the sake of having a clean closet alone, and not to please those voices in your head that tell you you’re a lazy fuck with shamefully dirty closets. You volunteer to help others not because you’re rich, because you’re not, but because you can do so joyfully. You read more non-fiction, you pick up your guitar one afternoon (the one you haven’t taken out of its case in three years), you bake fresh bread, you simmer pots of beans on the stove all day long, you spend all the time you want with your friends, you actually do your devotions regularly, your sheets are clean. No, you do not feel useless or unfulfilled. You feel like an actual human being. Just a fairly broke one.
And then your benefits run out. You take the first job you’re offered and you’re back on the treadmill, eating bad restaurant food and in your fatigue cutting all the non-essentials. All you can maintain is the job, about a third of your previous social life, and one hobby. Everything else goes, including the volunteering, the cooking, the knitting, the cheerfulness and the dusted ceilings.
Working does not give me a sense of accomplishment. It does not give me a sense of meaning, of usefulness, or of value. It just makes me tired, angry, and a poor member of society (unless you define “society” as that mechanism that wants me to eat restaurant food and buy new linens/consume medical services and have no savings). I’ve had some great jobs, too. Engaging, pleasant, with a learning curve and functional HVAC.
But regardless of the job, you’re still putting much your life on hold in order to make someone else rich. (Once in a great while you’re putting much of your life on hold in order to keep a group of people in your community employed, true, which is for the greater good and therefore of greater value. But most of the time? You’re busting balls to grow some dude’s wealth, and he does not give a fuck about the community the business operates in because he lives somewhere else.)
I make much less than I did at my last job, and I work much more. And not in a quiet newsroom sitting at a desk, either: in a concrete warehouse with shitty lighting. I’m always tired. My feet always hurt. When I’m not at work I don’t want to do anything but sit on the couch, drink wine, and read fiction or watch Hulu. I don’t even want to run to the grocery store with Scott to grab tomatoes and ginger; I don’t want to leave the apartment. (Part of that is the weather, of course — it’s been between minus ten and positive ten for awhile now, which is, in my opinion, shitty cold — but the bulk of it is the kind of fatigue the overwhelmed suffer.) I cook — not enough, but some — because it’s the hobby I’ve decided to have energy for.
Most of my internal monologue is about shutting the fuck up and not being such a horrible baby. It’s about how half the women I work with are older than me and closer to clinical obesity, and how their health is poor and how they work more hours than I do without half — I assume — of the rage I feel.
About how I’m an entitled little twat who needs to check her fucking attitude; how their feet must hurt even worse than mine and how their bathrooms are probably cleaner. How the corporate model basically has bullshit built into it, sure, but everyone else seems to be okay with it. How the fault is all with me and how I’m the angriest person I know and how because of all these flaws I don’t deserve anything better.
And about how I should be grateful to have any form of human social interaction at all, because there’s no other way to meet people in the Midwest in the dead of winter. How I’d never get any physical exercise at all if I didn’t work where I do. How working there takes the place of being in a band in terms of the noise, discomfort, heavy lifting, and performance (being in a good, cheerful, helpful mood for customers and co-workers, when in actual fact you just want to tell everyone to fuck the fuck off because only idiot white people with disposable income think that spending money on 85% of the shit in the store isn’t the epitome of stupidity).
But those last are the lies we tell ourselves in order to get by. I’m mad because that kind of work FUCKING SUCKS and the pay is AWFUL. I’m mad because the environment sucks, the lighting sucks, the noise sucks, the model (of using people like my co-workers and myself to make some fucktards somewhere rich) sucks, and because I and my fat co-workers would probably be much less fat if we just had time to cook at home. I’m mad because these are things we should all be mad about that my entire culture tells me not to even notice, or when I do notice it to blame myself.
Because if I were an inherently better person I’d have more self-discipline, more gratitude, and enough energy to get all this shit done. All the working, all the customer service, all the worship, all the writing and singing, all the cleaning, all the laundry, all the cooking, all the toilet scrubbing, and all the Hulu-watching.
But today? Today was my third day off in a row, and the sun shined, and I have a clean kitchen and clean bedding and dinner’s simmering on the stove and my favorite person in the world will be home soon.
And I want to be grateful for the contrast that makes this gratitude so strong, and I don’t want to borrow trouble from the future — I’m scheduled to work the next six days in a row and I have to be at work at six o’clock in the damn morning tomorrow — but right now, right this moment, life is perfect. I feel good, I’m happy, and the ills of the world — with its shitty weather and corporate greed and toxic American diet — are locked safely outside our cozy little brick building.
We’ll eat homemade food and sleep on clean sheets tonight. We have all the electronic gadgets and entertainment subscriptions we could ever want. We have slippers and fuzzy blankets and a candy jar. We have each other.
Life is good.