Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Muse Does Windows

"The best time for planning a book is while you're doing the dishes"- Agatha Christie

"I got the blues thinking of the future, so I left off and made some marmalade. It's amazing how it cheers one up to shed oranges and scrub the floor." - D.H. Lawrence

I'll never be one of those writers you read about in magazines who grab a cup of coffee at dawn and continue writing until light fades from the sky. It's not that I lack discipline; hey I went to Catholic school, I know discipline. Sitting at the keyboard for any prolonged period of time sends me like an addict with a serious jones searching for something, anything to clean, fix, sort or organize. It's not what you think. This is not a symptom of procrastination. It's more dangerous and disturbing. I confess- I love housework. The more mind-numbing and repetitive the better.

Women are reading this in horror. What can she mean she loves housework? No one loves housework, not unless one of their multiple personalities happens to be Martha Stewart (but then even the real Martha Stewart pays several people to handle this drudgery). I'm not exactly sure how this happened. As a kid my role model was Oscar Madison. I found freedom in his chaos. I didn't need to find a magical wardrobe to disappear into a strange land, my room was that land. I could disappear without a trace. My mother never had to search for creative means of discipline. "Clean your room" would leave me prostrate, begging and pleading, "Please anything, I'll do anything but that. Why don't I get the belt for you?" My aunt took me aside one day when I was a teenager. Her expression was serious and I prepared myself for bad news. She announced sadly that no man would ever marry me because I was a slob. She on the otherhand was one of those women who sealed every piece of furniture in impenetrable plastic so I wasn't too concerned.

With age came a small degree of neatness. When company came over I ran through my apartment tossing things into closets, under the sofa, in drawers and in a pinch- the bathtub. Motherhood changed this. My job was to turn these children into productive citizens but before I could do that I had to find them amidst the piles of laundry and toys so I cleaned. I cleaned and cleaned and cleaned some more. Unlike money and time, cleaning never seemed to disappear. This really sucked.

I grumbled and mumbled my way through the days. Oh woe is me! Why me? Kill me right now if I have to pick up one more Lego piece! I wasn't a happy-camper. Then one day while scrubbing the toilet, a character popped into my head, fully formed. I was stunned. Suddenly I a story was attached to that character and I had a gleaming bathroom which I didn't remember cleaning. This started happening all the time, while running the water to wash dishes, chopping garlic, hanging laundry, you name it. I was working out problems in plotting, defining characters, creating topics for essays. WOW! I made certain I had my trusty rubber gloves, cleaning products, digital recorder and pen and paper.

I've never heard of this phenomenon from other writers. Generally when the subject of cleaning comes up two choices present themselves- get someone else to do it or forget about it. When you're on the New York Time Bestseller's List will anyone care that there's a faint scent of decay in your house? Buy some potpourri and write. I'd never heard a writer on to Fresh Air admit to finding inspiration while removing mildew from the bathroom tiles. When my youngest was born my mother-in-law offered to give us money for house cleaning . How could I admit that the idea of someone else taking care of the housework terrified me? What if my muse began bestowing her charms on them, leaving me a broken vessel, short on content but long on time? No siree! I asked for a closet organizer instead.

Now I kick myself over those years I spent grumbling over cleaning. How many ideas did I lose? I'm making up for lost time. In those quiet moments of sheer panic which usually occur in the middle of the night, I wonder could I possibly succumb to writer's block but then in the morning, I awake to the fresh mess my family has left throughout the house. Of course, I must keep up appearances and I complain bitterly at the unfairness of this, but I know my muse awaits. Ooh goody, it sounds like the dog is throwing up again, now I can finally work out scene 35 of my novel. Write on!

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