With practice, it’s possible to find moments of joy and grace in almost any chore, no matter how mundane or tiresome. For example: I hate doing the dishes. I hate it so much that dirty dishes have been the trigger for most of our (rare) household fights.

The height of the counter and the depth of the sink seem almost to conspire, like malevolent creatures, to tweak my lower back and my strained shoulder. The dishes are fragile and haphazardly stacked, sometimes with tiny crusty bits, sometimes a bit slippery. Once in a great while, my tender fingers find at the bottom of the pile the shattered (and sharp) remains of a dish I loved. The metal dish drainer marks the dishes; the wooden dish drainer rots. The water chaps my hands.

And there it is: I hate doing the dishes. This idea,  firmly entrenched in my head, repeats and repeats and wears itself a track in my brain, until it seems absolutely true.

But it isn’t. It’s only a thought. I’m training myself to see other thoughts, to find reasons to enjoy the small necessities of daily life. Here’s why I love doing the dishes.

– The high citrus scent of the natural dish soap makes me smile. With the orange scent sold out, we had to buy apple scent this time. Turns out apple makes me smile, too.

– The soft floursack curtain hanging on a rod over the kitchen sink. The odd positioning of our windowframe made it impossible to use a traditional curtainrod in our kitchen, so I thought and thought and then rigged up a simple solution for a few dollars. The best part: because it’s a floursack towel, when it gets dusty or spattered or tired-looking, I can whip it down and hang a replacement from the stack of towels. It makes me feel like a genius, in a teeny tiny way.

– Bubbles. I love the tiny stray bubbles that occasionally break away from the spout of the detergent bottle, floating in the still air of the kitchen or catching the breeze from the open window.

– Filling the rack and emptying the sink. How many tasks offer that simple visual metric of accomplishment? For the same reason, I enjoy laundry: if you’re doing it even half-right, you’re quickly rewarded with obvious progress.

– The old set of silver flatware, no doubt the wedding silver of a distant great-aunt, passed diffidently on to me by my mother. I love using these pieces, I love the feel of them in my hand. I love to polish them (using the baking-soda/boiling-water method), but I also love to use them even when they’re coated with tarnish. I love to scrub and soap and rinse them, I love to slot them into their little drawer. I love them.

– Breaks. When the dishes are stacked and towering and too numerous to face at once, I wash a batch, then take a break to let them drain. It’s a chance to sit peacefully with a coffee, a book, the laptop, or the phone, but still retain the virtuous illusion of doing the chores.

– A meandering mind. I do a lot of my clearest thinking during a mindless, mechanical chore. A great many of my big a-Ha! moments come while I’m doing dishes. I exploit this for academic writing by scheduling writing breaks during which I can wash a half-sink of dishes; I load up my brain with the subject matter, examine it carefully every which way, then take a break and do some dishes. As my hands scrub and rinse and my mouth hums a song, my brain ticks away in the background the whole time, poking at the dark corners of a thesis and looking for a new path.

I love doing the dishes. I should try to remember that.

7 thoughts on “gratitude

  1. I love this.

    Dishwashing, for many of these reasons, is the household chore that least annoys me, thus I happily take it into my (much shorter!) chore column in the household.

    More blogs should contain this sort of anti-complaining.

  2. Erik, I think we could safely say that most lives (mine included) would benefit from this kind of anti-complaining. One of my favorite things to do is to get my teeth into a reeeeeeally good complaint, the kind that unwinds into a grand screed of kvetching.

    (The kitchen is looking better and better, bit by bit. The dishes are almost done, and now I have space to set up for a breadmaking session. Yay!)

  3. I love this as well. My apartment’s tiny kitchen cannot accommodate a dishwasher (besides me) so I have had to find a way to enjoy it, which has proved surprisingly easy. If I don’t accomplish anything else on a given day, I will at least accomplish emptying the sink.

  4. I was just about to offer to wash your dishes: I love doing the dishes at someone else’s house. But the way you describe it it sounds positively selfish to offer. Never mind.
    Trade you a dishwashing session for a cappuccino any day of the week.

  5. Gaoo, I wanna get that offer in writing! Oh, wait…

    That sounds like a great deal to me, except that our kitchen is so small I couldn’t even keep you company.

  6. What an interesting, thoughtful way to look at the bane of my existence! The Kitchn linked to this piece today. This particular quote really resonated with me: “But it isn’t. It’s only a thought. I’m training myself to see other thoughts…” I can’t imagine ever loving to do the dishes-I cook from scratch and make a huge mess; while I’m getting better about that part of the equation, I think I’ll borrow your thought and see where it leads…thanks for the introduction to this idea, as well as an introduction to your blog.

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