The following is the lightly edited transcript of an IM I just had with a friend. I’m thinking about ‘washing dishes’ as the basis of a personal philosophy, and am interested in what people think:
me: so what’s the existential bummer
friend oh the usual shmoo. my therapist says I have death anxiety. well, yeah. so I’m working through that, and figuring out what I really want to do with the next 10-20 years or so. not just what I’ve been dreaming about doing or what I think I should or what somebody else’s good idea is, but coming to some conclusions about that deep-down life eval that started quite a while back and which has been bubbling the last couple of years. and realizing that I have an enormous range of choices and freaking out about which flavor of ice cream to eat first. wondering why the hell I have so much stuff published not in my name… which seems rather self-sabotaging for someone who professes to want to make a living writing. hard to get credit for it if my name’s no where near it, right
me: nope, doesn’t work too well
me: so – how do you feel about washing dishes
friend hee… well, it’s not a very demanding sort of thing to do, now is it on the other hand, I’ve done it in college and already know it’s not as glamorous as the movies would have us believe… hell on a girl’s manicure.
me: I have a new philosophy of life
me: you need to learn to enjoy washing dishes
me: because that’s what most of life is about
me: so you have to adjust your attitude toward things until you see the pleasure in it
friend yeah, I think it’s called chopping wood and carrying water to some folks on the other side of the ocean
me: except that we don’t do that’s so it’s too trite
me: and romanticized
friend maybe I’m too much of an hedonist.
me: all that other stuff – the pleasure stuff – is just wrapped around washing dishes
friend I have this unshakeable belief that I shouldn’t spend 8-10 hrs a day doing something I don’t like.
friend at least not every day for the rest of my life.
me: so if you lived in a village, what would you spend your time doing?
me: or is this one of those reincarnation “I was a queen” things
me: ’cause no one ever seems to have worked in the kitchens.
friend I’d be a doula, or the village healer, and weave, and cook, and maybe try carving things if I didn’t cut my fingers off (there’s a reason I gave you those throwing knives).
friend I don’t think I was ever a queen. a priestess once in a while, a small peasant boy living on the banks of the Nile, perhaps. was burned for witchcraft once. that sucked.
me: but here’s the deal -
me: you’d have to heal and weave even when it stopped being fun
me: that’s the key to adulthood
me: and the mistake we make – because as Americans (maybe as Europeans too) is thinking that our childhood will be prolonged and that life ought to be like summer camp
me: where people get paid to entertain us all day
friend oh yeah. even when somebody died bad because of something I did. I can live with that. have already, even. and weave when my fingers get sore and bloody because somebody needs clothes. yup.
me: so why is it so hard to do a job where your fingers don’t bleed?
friend you do work in IT, right tell me it’s not entertaining all day, if you just look around with a certain degree of detachment
friend like bad mimes on X…
me: I’m almost always entertained.
me: and I get to work with a bunch of smart people
me: and all the people who work with me are amazingly high-maintenance
me: so there’s always something
me: and I get to solve interesting problems
me: so, compared with using a stick for a plow and plating beets, it’s pretty good
friend for me the work doesn’t have to be fun or entertaining, but it does need to make a difference, be worthwhile, raise the level of common good somehow. better if I can make money doing it than volunteer only, of course.
me: so walk the walk. people take do-good jobs alla time
me: they don’t get shiny cars and nice clothes, but they make do
me: (I’m feeling direct tonight)
friend getting there. overhead is being lowered as we speak so I don’t have to work just for money. I’m working out a line of jewelry that will benefit a non-profit or two, depending on which pieces are interesting to who. creative + beauty + good + right-brain lets me get balance to go do the kitchen scut work that pays the bills. and eventually the balance will shift
me: I’ll be interested in how you see those organizations from the inside
friend politics, politics, self-aggrandizement, egos nattering about how wonderful we all are for taking care of those poor chilluns… at least that’s been my experience to date with non-profits. people are people. all we can do is what we can do. sometimes the right thing for the wrong reason.
me: you know the phrase ‘doing a geographic’
friend not exactly
me: In 12-step (one ex-wife and a few girlfriends) the theory that if you just move, everything will be OK
me: but no matter where you go, there you are.
friend which is why you have to do what you can do, now. not in some theoretical future when everything will be different because of X
me: and learn to enjoy doing the dishes
friend I have learned in the last 6 months that I give a shit about an MFA, so that’s some concrete progress been made.
me: That’s head in clouds stuff
me: if you liked washing dishes, it’d be easy to work out
friend I keep having this illusion that life is about accomplishing goals. big goals. and it keeps biting me in the ass.
me: it is about accomplishing goals
me: but we think about the big goals – book deal, etc. etc and in the morning we still have to take out the trash – and wash the dishes
me: you have to do both
me: but if you don’t wash the dishes, and you don’t get the book deal, you’re fucked
me: while if you do wash the dishes, you get a clean kitchen (i.e. your daily life is in balance and feels good)
friend I’ve been doing good lately to do the trash and dishes…
friend back to balance.
me: some folks need to learn to stretch
me: they never reach for anything
me: most of us need to learn not to stretch so much
me: because we’re lied to all our lives and told that all that matters are the things you stretch for
friend that’s what I mean by getting bitten in the ass by the big goals.
me: and – since most of us don’t get the brass ring – we start thinking our lives don’t mean a damn
me: big goals matter
me: but it’s funny – I think that many people get them in a burst in their 20’s
me: and if you don’t do that – if you’re not Picasso – then you do it a dish at a time.
me: get up, clean the kitchen, get dressed, do work
me: Lots of people hang on the edge – not committing to their daily lives while they try and reach – with shortened reach – for the goal
me: so you’re fucked – won’t get either a life or goals
friend living in what should be instead of where they are
me: not in what ‘should be’ but ‘what I wish was’
me: so then you go to Plan B
friend which is
friend chopping wood for the kitchen so you can boil water to wash the dishes
me: you’re a writer. Wallace Stevens and Ted Kooser worked for insurance companies
me: managed to write a little on the side
me: didn’t sit in the living room unhappy that they had to go to work
me: hence enjoying doing dishes…and we’re back where we started.