Sunday, April 13, 2008

On Laundry

“After enlightenment, the laundry.” Zen Proverb

JAN: I have a good friend who must do laundry every morning because she can't stand the smell of dirty laundry accumulating in her hamper.

I have another good friend who launders her towels after every single use because the idea of them drying on the towel rack illicits frightening fears of mold.

Me? I'm always somewhat surprised that there is any laundry. I did it last week, didn't I? I always feel that I've been hoodwinked, swindled even, to find that its back again, demanding attention.

In fact, until I learned of my friend's hypersensitivity, I wasn't even aware that dirty laundry sitting in a bedroom hamper smelled bad. Certainly not if you keep the top closed and walk past really fast - which is advisable, anyway, if you are trying to ignore it.

I'm one of those people who forgets about the laundry until it's undeniable that the hamper lid isn't going to shut anymore. Then, I engage in what I call the laundry festival. I do about five or six non-stop loads of laundry, and feel a sense of accomplishment as the sorted mounds of dirty clothes on the kitchen floor slowly disappear.

Some might call me a procrastinater, but I like to think that I prefer the satisfaction of solving the major disaster of backed-up laundry, over the minor challenge of keeping up with it.

But I also think it's the way I write my books. As Hallie can testify, my chapters are a complete mess up until the very end. When I'm focusing on plot, I can't pay attention to double periods or typos. Half the time I don't even see the errors or realize I've switched tenses. I clean up my book in one big laundry festival at the end.

So my question is this: Are there any everyday task metaphors that mirror your writing style? If we are what we eat, are we also what we fold and put away?

ROBERTA: I love doing laundry. It's such a small job with a satisfying reward--neat stacks of clean clothes instead of a big messy, smelly pile. (And by the way, Jan, if you keep the hamper in your husband's closet, your smell problem could be solved!) Unfortunately, though clean laundry is necessary and it feels good to have it done, tackling it doesn't solve my major household/life organization problems.

My writing style mimics this problem exactly. Once I have a couple of pages written (that's the pile of dirty clothes,) I'd much rather go back over those, tweaking and reworking each word, than forge on ahead. Rewriting gives me the same satisfaction as folding clean clothes and putting them away. But it's not the answer to my bigger problem: advancing the book.

HALLIE: Ah, laundry. Ever since I turned my husband's underwear pink...for the third time...he does his own. And I have no idea how that black crayon got into the sheet wash. Since then he's taken over laundering sheets and towels, too. My daughter Naomi comes home to do her laundry and prohibits me from taking it out of the drier because, according to her, I can't fold. She's right. I'm just not a stacker or a folder or a neatener-up. I tolerate mess and untidiness up to a point, and then I have a straightening melt down. It's ugly.

For me, the laundry of writing is outlining. I can go along happily and haphazardly writing (aka making a mess)up to a point, but when I feel the book veering out of control, I revise my outline to see where I am...then hack away at my overgrown manuscript until it conforms to some kind of order.

RO: Uh, I don't do the laundry very often. My cleaning lady does it. Now if only I could get her to write the books too, then she'd really be worth the dough I pay her.

So maybe the best metaphor for me is cleaning out my closets - I do occasionally throw stuff out, sometimes boxes of it, but more likely I will agonize over every article of clothing I own, relive the good or bad times I had in it, and then decide whether or not it gets another shot or goes in the Goodwill bag. Lots of things go to the back of the closet to be resurrected again at a later date. Pretty much the same with my editing process.

HANK: Writing has competely changed my connection with laundry. Now, my husband does it. Yes, he does, and I'm sure it's out of sheer self preservation. Because I'd be at the computer saying--yes, I'll do it in just a sec. Really, honey, just let me finish this one part...then of course, hours later, no laundry.

He's great it at, which I think is adorable. Since he's not really the laundry type. But I always fold. ( Eventually. And, to be honest, I fold everything except the fitted sheets which I know were designed to drive people into a rage. Those I kind of...wrap.)

Anyway--you know what I LOVE? Ironing. Even though I hardly ever do it anymore. And maybe that's the perfectionist in me. In writing, I love that final edit process, where you get to find the kinks and wrinkles and glitches, and smooth everything out until it looks beautiful.

JAN: In the rare instances that I do it I also find an odd satisfaction in ironing. But but no real love. Similarly, while I'm not really crazy about the final edit process. there is something comforting about it. If only because the worst is over....the heavy lifting/laundry is done!


  1. Congratulations to Rosemary! I just read on Shelf Awareness that Pushing Up Daisies was a Top Ten mystery bestseller for the month of March. A real dream come true!!!

    Amy MacKinnon

  2. Many thanks, Amy! I particularly liked the fact that I tied with Linda still my heart!

    Shouting out a hello to Judy Larsen who I met at VABook a couple of weeks ago..I still haven't unpacked! I have suitcases all over with a little bit of stuff left in each one of them.

    On Laundry...
    Why can I not get my little head around the image of Hank in one of her zillion black couture suits and shiny red pumps, perfectly coiffed and standing over an ironing board? And smiling that gorgeous megawatt smile.

  3. Hey Ro. Oh, yeah, that's just what I look like ironing. You just keep imagining that.

    The rest of you, those who live in the real world, imagine sweat pants and flip flops, and my hair on the top of my head like Pebbles.

  4. I love doing laundry but I hate folding it. What does that mean? I keep buying laundry baskets which line up beside my bed--all full.

    Is this related to the fact that I love loading a dishwasher but hate unloading it?

  5. Hi Sheila,
    I agree: Folding is pretty much the whole problem. I hate it a little less now, since I made a shelf of the washing machine top and started folding the laundry directly out of the dryer into neat little piles. Now they go straight from those piles to the closet/bureau, because if I put them in a basket for even a minute -- they'll stay there for a week. Plus the basket makes it seem like a whole extra step.

    And I hate unloading the dishwasher, too.

    Although every once in awhile, I put the timer on and make a race of it. I can do it in under two minutes, but watch out for dish damage!

  6. Hallie, I never THOUGHT of doing the laundry badly, so everyone else would take it over. (Although my husband and son might claim I already do it badly--just nobody's volunteering to take over the job!)

    And I love the metaphor for plotting--yes, I can only go so far without an unplotted mess forcing me to stop writing and clean things up.