Monday, January 07, 2008

Tupperware & Re-writing

by Nancy Martin

In February, we think of pink hearts. In April, it's spring showers. May flowers. June brides. When October rolls around, it's pumpkins. But the symbol for the month of January has got to be the Tupperware container.

I don't know about you, but one Christmas is over, I get the urge to put away all my cluttery holiday decorations, re-organize my storage shelves and streamline my life. If this sounds to your suspicious mind like a writer's varying methods of procrastination---well, let's meet for a long lunch to discuss it.

The Tupperware container is a crucial part of the January cleanup--a time to stow the junk in our lives. The great thing about Tupperware is that it's clear and allows us to see what's inside. I have to see it, you see, or my junk is lost forever. My husband prefers to packs stuff tightly into cardboard boxes (they're free, he says, and tight packing saves space) whereupon the stuff disappears and we have to buy new stuff because we can't find the old stuff. Which is why we have three watering cans. (I'm still annoyed that he lost a collection of little diamonds that I had hoped might make a nice ring for me on our 25th wedding anniversary, but to make up for it, he says, I have extra watering cans.)

Maybe it's because my house has been under construction for a couple of months, but after Christmas I couldn't wait to get my life organized again. I became a cleaning fanatic. I packed up the decorations, polished the silver one more time before putting it away, took down the wreaths and stowed them in the garage.

Then once all the tinsel was put away, I realized it was high time to repaint the red corner cupboard in the kitchen. And once you start painting, all kinds of things look dull and dinged by comparison, so I opened a can of white paint and painted some more: Baseboards and door jambs. When I finished, I noticed I had gotten a splurch of paint on my fingernail, so I had to do my nails all over again.

While I painted Sally Hansen's Aura on my nails, I glanced up to admire my red cupboard, and I reflected on what rewarding work painting is. How nice to see the shiny new paint cover up all the scratches and scuff marks! And as I had painted, I could plainly see my progress, which spurred me on. It made me want to stick with the project to get it all finished up.

Then, with the cupboard and the baseboards and the door jambs newly painted, my nails done and the Tupperware put away, I realized the floor needed a real scrubbing. I mean, the down-on-your-creaky-knees and using-a-bristle-brush kind of scrubbing. (After finishing this job, I realized why so many of us have that flabby skin under our upper arms.--We don't scrub our own floors enough!)

As I scrubbed, I thought about how proud my mother would be to see me down there grunting and sloshing Mr. Clean around. My mother is still a demon about house cleaning. She actually has a collection of toothbrushes dedicated to various cleaning chores--bathtubs, golf shoes, hubcaps, etc. Growing up, I came to know the cleaning schedule by heart: Mondays were laundry day. Tuesdays for ironing. Wednesdays were dusting and sweeping. On Thursdays we scrubbed floors. And on Fridays the cleaning lady came. Yes, Mother is still one of those women who cleans before the cleaning lady turns up. I try to tidy things the day before Patty comes to my house, but I'm lucky if I get the dishes out of the sink and into the dishwasher before she taps on my back door.

But lately, I've been thinking that manual labor is underrated.

Oh, the joy of seeing progress made! And once a floor is scrubbed, it doesn't need to be re-written----er, re-scrubbed a hundred times. It's a pleasure to sit down and admire that spanking clean floor and know you've done a good job the first time around.

No, I'm not going to fire Patty anytime soon. Because if I didn't have Patty, I can see myself doing housekeeping chores all day long, just like my mother does.

But I have to get back to writing. No, really, I do. No more procrastination. No more avoiding the fact that writing is frustrating and difficult and time consuming. It's hard to see the progress while you're in the middle of a writing project, but that's why people say things like, "It's the journey that's important, not the destination."

But now and then, I just want to go out and buy some Tupperware, fill it up with junk and store it on a nice, clean storage shelf. Simple work that gives a simple pleasure.


Anonymous said...

I wish I felt that way about cleaning! I'm afraid I don't, however. So, for the joys of organizing, I will have to stick to cleaning out my email inbox.

Annette said...

Personally, I think missing diamonds are grounds for going through every single one of those cardboard boxes and sifting through all the contents. Which would require repacking everything once it was established that the missing diamonds were not there.

That alone should keep you busy for another few weeks.

My mom is an obsessive cleaner, too. The gene seems to have skipped a generation, though.

Joyce Tremel said...

I can relate to this. I used to be much more obsessive before I started working at the PD. Now I just spend all day Saturday cleaning the house. I was once accused of having a laundry room so clean you could eat off the washer and dryer.

Give me a choice between writing a really tough chapter or cleaning the bathroom, the bathroom will win. In my defense, I have to say that lots of scenes develop in my head while I'm doing mindless chores.

Anonymous said...

I think it's true there's a correlation between keeping your left brain busy with relatively maindless tasks so your right brain can be creative. I do lots of great plotting in the shower.

Anonymous said...

What an epiphany! Just this very morning I vowed to wage war against clutter and dirt and to put writing away until this project was finished (before I read your blog). You said it well, Nancy.

Anonymous said...

Get back to writing, Nancy!

Man, I never want to clean more than when I'm on a deadline. Which I am, right now. My current tupperware obsession is cooking loads of food and freezing it. Over vacation we made homemade pierogies, ravioli, and a variety of muffins to obliterate holiday fruitbaskets and now I have a freezer full of stuff to gorge on so that making food doesn't bite (heh) into writing time.

Naturally I've found other ways to waste my time instead.

Joyce Tremel said...

Homemade pierogies? Slathered with real butter and onions. My mouth is watering!

Anonymous said...

Kathy, that cooking urge is a useful one. Why do I still have the let's-go-out urge--even now, with my ktichen finsihed at last? Maybe I just don't want to get it dirty . . . .

Anonymous said...

I can identify with the urge to clean and sort, but not quite enough to really do it. I prefer to follow the 3M method of house cleaning - if it isn't growing Mold, Mildew or Maggots, it is clean enough!

Cooking, on the other hand, is an obsession. Every month, I try to make all (or most) of the recipes in that month's Vegetarian Times -- about 20 or 30 new recipes. That may explain why my kitchen is usually so messy . . . [and why my refrigerator is always overflowing with leftovers threatening to grow mold, etc.]

Anonymous said...

Gina, of all those monthly recipes, how many are keepers? I just wonder if all that experimentation could possibly be worth the effort? I could use a few new ones because my old standbys are starting to get . . . old. But trying 20 or 30 recipes a month? Yikes!