Friday, June 11, 2021

House cleaning and meditations on creativity

Recently I have been staying with my father. Many days include visits to his doctors. He has a lot of doctors! But mostly I am cooking and cleaning. The cooking is particularly interesting because my dad is on a very restrictive diet. Every meal is a puzzle to be solved.

Here's a photograph of my Dad, taken about ten years ago when we visited The New York Library's exhibition "Lunch Hour." The two of us reminisced about The Automat, Chock Full o' Nuts Coffee, and even Patricia Murphy's Candlelight Restaurant. If you are unfamiliar with the later, I highly recommend Marcia Biederman's fantastic book Popovers and Candlelight.

Housecleaning has not been so much of a puzzle to solve, but a lesson in the art of Zen. I have never liked sweeping, washing floors or dusting, but in recent days I have found that while I lose myself in this rhythmic activity, I have also found a new level of creativity.

It's that old right brain/left brain thing. When I get down on my hands and knees and scrub the kitchen floor with a scrub brush and bucket of soapy water (yes, I am that old-school), I find my mind wandering.

Well, not wandering exactly.

My mind focuses on one square of floor at a time and in that square of floor, I see a universe. And in that universe, I see patterns of story. I see the beginning, the middle and the end. I see the point of conflict and struggle and the midpoint crisis. I see my own battle with dirt -- the embedded thing -- that impossible piece of gunk that only steel wool and a lot of elbow grease will defeat. I see all of my foibles, my own Jungian journey. My anima, my animus. My ego. It is me and the floor locked in battle. I have allies and enemies. I have a goal, a mission. I will defeat this dirt and re-capture the gleaming white floor and along with it, the 1950's circa suburban ranch house and the floor -- truly, a damsel in distress -- the princess in the tower that needs me to rescue her.

Ultimately, I will lose this battle. This is the nature of housework. I know this, as sure as I know that tomorrow morning my father will walk into the kitchen and spill a glass of pineapple juice (which is somehow okay on the renal diet).

And then, I will begin again, knowing that scrubbing a floor is just about the most creative thing I can do today.

Your creativity prompt: Do some housecleaning today, but ask yourself, who is the hero of this story? Who is the enemy? (Hint: dirt is just a metaphor). And most importantly, ask yourself who are you rescuing?  

This is a whole lot more than housework. It is soul work and it is the heart of creativity.



  1. Thoughtful post Jamie. I hate cleaning but Iwill clean one square of marble, though it has never spoken to my as your floor does. Practice, practice. I hope you father improves with you administrations.

    1. We are kindred spirits, dear Carol! And thank you for your well-wishes for my Dad. He is doing well...considering. Sending you much love and thank you for all your Paris maps. I love them so!

  2. A brilliant take on how to turn lemons to lemonade. If you ever need a break, Jamie, I'm less than half an hour away. Happy to come and entertain your dad while you do something for yourself...

    1. Oh, Gabi! Thank you. Your offer warms my heart. I'm in the middle of organizing things for my Dad, and I can't take a break, but I am going to take you up on your very sweet offer in the coming weeks. Thank you from the bottom of my heart! Love, Jamie


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