In this quarantine, I discovered the ugly beauty of doing the dishes.
Often considered the ultimate penalty chore of the 90s (when wifi was not yet a thing), it’s the one task at home that is often the meat of contention among brothers and sisters, the origin of all sibling rivalries.
When I was a kid, my sister and I would fight over who gets to clean the table after dinner — a hateful chore per se, but not as loathsome as the dirtier task of washing the dishes.
Doing the dishes was the accursed chore. Perhaps, more accurately, it was the chore of the accursed. It’s when you stand face to face with undesirable leftovers…and saliva and grease and, quite possibly, vomit laced with phlegm. Not only do you touch them, but scrape them off with your fingers, the same ones you lick when at KFC.
But now that a pandemic is upon us, plaguing our sense of time and making prisons out of homes, an inevitable metaphorical vomit must be swallowed: it-that-must-not-be-named.
My fiancée, Kath, calls doing the chore a sign of love; I call it martyrdom.
After many nights of doing the dishes, however, I came to an unexpected realization: this damned chore is an opportunity in disguise. An opportunity for a horde of benefits.
First of all, it’s my half-hour me-time (I can go longer than that when the OC spirit moves me…to clean the sink and kitchen and dining area as well, and then mop the floor too). In these odd times, it has become the chance for me to listen to podcasts uninterrupted, particularly Tim Ferriss’ interviews with “world-class performers”, because I’m a pretentious productivity snob like that; it has become my time to learn new things and open my mind to lesser known topics and esoteric life hacks.
Second, it is therapeutic. The chore has become a ritual libation, washing away the dark, slimy frustrations I’ve gathered after a whole day of aiming for perfection, a totally realistic objective.
Third, it is — admit it — poetic. The rushing water are the tears of my grief over the loss of prepandemic normal life. The vigorous scrubbing is what I could have done to meetings that should have been emails. And the sparkling-white plates are akin to my soul when all this purgatory-of-a-chore is over.
When all is said and done and written passionately as above, however, doing the dishes remains one of life’s great tragedies. Which is probably why it’s now midnight, and I’m just sitting and staring at the dish-filled sink, typing this blog post for want of transcendence.