Motto: It's terrifying to see someone inside of whom a vital spring seems to have been broken. It's particularly terrifying to see him in your mirror. ~Mignon McLaughlin, The Second Neurotic's Notebook, 1966
I have counted that last month I have stayed home less than 10 days altogether. I went on holiday, and then on a 1-week business trip. Also last month I packed for moving, at the office (inside the building, but still needed to clean-up my desk and pack everything nice in boxes).
All in all, this travelling actually translated into a chaos in my apartment - pile of laundry, tons of dust, thirsty plants and an empty fridge. And to be even more interesting, some ephemerides seem to have invaded my apartment during my last week’s absence, as the floor in the living room was full of small dead insects and it took quite a while to identify the trigger (one of the plants of course). Therefore, today was really a domestic adventure. As in Vienna on Sunday everything is closed, I woke up early (6:45 a.m. on a Saturday!...), to be able to do some basic shopping – which in my case usually includes fruits and juices, cheese, meat & olives, bread and croissants, chocolate pudding, cosmetics and house-cleaning products, some shoes, couple of skirts and blouses, accessories, gifts and so on – usual Saturday stuff… long day!
Between two home-deliveries, I managed to take out 3 rounds of laundry and after 6 p.m. (when all shops suffer from sudden closing here), I finally returned home and started the apartment cleaning. Therefore now I am very tired and very relaxed at the same time. Everything is unpacked and (almost) arranged to its right place, the place looks reasonably fine and I can enjoy some nice music, a ball of fruits and a nice tea from Mariage Freres (thanks to my friend who took me to this perfect shop in Paris). And of course now I have some time to write something for my friends, who already asked what is wrong, as I have not written anything for more than a month.
The topic is of course connected to what I did today and, as usually when I think of a topic, fits to a lot of events and people around me in the last month. I will start by saying that cleaning and cooking are the two wisest activities in my life, as they give me time to think. Whenever I do physical activities I think (well, almost always…). The good part is that I almost never think about job, but about friends and life. Actually I miss a lot the longer cooking time that I used to enjoy back in Bucharest, exactly because of this thinking and relaxing (also the resulting food was quite ok). Coincidence or not, this morning at 7 a.m., while drinking my coffee, the movie “Julie & Julia” was broadcasted on HBO (Meryl Streep & Amy Adams, about cooking and writing).
It made me realize that I drifted away from writing, therefore decided to change this starting today. I will start with English posting, as the line of thinking during today’s cleaning hours is closer to those people with whom I came in contact this month.
So, to warm up after this long period of not writing, I will start with simple things and talk about the cleaning process.
There are several actions that you must perform to clean up your house and it is advisable to do them in a certain order, so that you get a good result. For example is advisable that you first use the vacuum cleaner and only after that you wash the floor and dust the furniture and not the other way around. It is also advisable that you do not dust in the same room where you have the wet laundry hanged out to dry and so on… you get my point, right?
While cleaning, accidents tend to happen – such as spilling the coffee, breaking down things, dropping little carpets out the window. Do not get angry, it does not matter that much, as you are deep within the cleaning process anyway – longer time just allows for little more thinking, right? (well… of course you also need time to ask forgiveness for dropping out of your mouth several nasty words anyway…). Actually I have learned not to get mad or panicked when such things happen, even if I am not cleaning. Because it only takes much longer to clean - getting angry or panicked may trigger a chain of similar events (while cleaning the coffee you spill the salt or sugar – and usually not on a nice & plain surface!...)
So, coming back to cleaning, it is important to mention that there are different processes – daily, weekly, season-connected (Easter, Christmas), re-decorating, painting etc. The length, degree of intervention and outcome is different, and so is the satisfaction of having the process finished. The more intensive is the cleaning, the more stressful it is while undergoing, but the more satisfaction you get in the end.
In my job I appreciate having the opportunity to move every one or two years, and it has to do with cleaning. The dusting and the washing activities are actually performed by some nice ladies that you only see in the morning or evening. However cleaning is not only about that, but also about arranging and re-arranging your stuff, throwing old and useless things and rediscover old and useful ones (this is actually the best part of the cleaning – finding those things you either have been looking for long time or completely forgot you have). In the office I usually clean up superficially every month, but never go deep enough inside the drawers or through the old paper-work.
In my apartment is more or less the same – preparation phase is the longest. Putting order into my things before starting to dust and wash is actually most of the process. Of course moving things from one place to another and then back just to dust around them could be also an option; but that does not give much satisfaction – like I said, to get that good feeling that you “cleaned-up”, you need to get your hands deep into the darkest corners.
Finally, now I get to the point and you will begin to understand the reason for choosing that motto. I was wondering what happens to a house that is not cleaned for one month. Ok – then what about after one year? I would say it accumulates trash and dust (smelly also…), a lot of useless stuff that gets into the way of normal living. Sometimes you do not realize how much useless stuff you accumulate and get used to it in your house, until you make a big change (move or redecorate or similar).
The same happens to machines (need oiling, cleaning etc.), but also I believe the most important thing is that it happens to relationships and to people in general. My question to you, my dear readers is how often you clean-up your relationships (both personal and professional), and how often you clean-up yourselves (and I am not talking about daily showers of course…).
Of course I do not expect you to answer, as I only just asked this myself today while cleaning. It will take me a long time to answer and also maybe a longer time to do something about it. Of course that some daily cleaning we do, both on a conscious and unconscious level; but for the redecoration or move-type of personal cleaning, it takes a lot of effort and determination.
I remember somebody saying about someone quite recently that he looks “broken”, just like the motto. I perceived this assessment so painfully truth, so I tried to pay more attention to understand “what” was broken in that person. Unfortunately there were more things broken and (even more unfortunately) it is not the only broken person that I have seen in my life.
In one way or another, we all have our fair share of broken parts, starting with the first time we waited for someone that never came, the first time we were told the truth and could not stand it, or were told a white lie by someone dear (remember your mother promising that the doctor will not hurt you and then – bang, the needle was already in your arm!).
People tend to call experience what is actually a collection of small pieces of our broken selves, which we either cure or decide to hide. It is our life’s puzzle – cured parts are displayed and make sense in the way we behave, hidden parts are like black-spots that make us look mysterious and unpredictable in the eyes of others or (even more intriguing) in our own eyes. Because everybody knows that we may hide from ourselves; it is usually more convincing to hide in front of others what we also hide from ourselves.
And then I come back to the person in question – the “broken” impression was right, but for me it was already less broken than one year before. I met the person rather long time before, and now it was partially healing. It is still a long way, but the cleaning process is at least started.
Therefore, to all those who hide well their broken parts and carry on with their life pretending their puzzle is complete, I would say just this tonight: look closer - both around you and inside you. Ask yourself when you did the last redecoration and set some anchors inside and some outside of yourself (those who can be of help to you in this process). I believe you will not need to look too far, usually those who can help you with deep cleaning are quite close to you.
Then start going through your broken pieces, separate the useful from the useless ones (how?... of course that by looking ahead, on what you want to do with your life). Then carefully mend the first category, while forgiving and forgetting everything about the second. And, as this is not rocket-science, but pure “Mark-Twain-like” advice, I cannot promise it will work like a charm unless you know where you are heading. Because what M. Twain said was: “I can teach anybody how to get what they want out of life. The problem is that I can't find anybody who can tell me what they want.”
I leave you now – hopefully at least wondering. I will do the same.