Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Zen and the Art of Washing Dishes

It is entirely possible that there exist people today who have never washed dishes, but rather think of dishwashing as something that is done by a machine which sits under your kitchen counter. Loading and emptying are what’s done to everything used to prepare and serve food. I expect most people think of the dishwasher as a time-saver, a useful appliance which takes the drudgery out of a task, freeing us up to do other things — which according to most advertising means spending “quality time” with our families. 

But perhaps the dishwasher does the opposite; it does not improve the quality of life (of the person charged with the domestic chores) at all. Perhaps it takes something valuable away: some quiet time at the end of the evening.

It used to be that our homes were our gyms; the amount of calories spent simply doing chores — without modern conveniences — was easily spent, keeping us (or our great-grandmothers) slim. But the exercise that chores provided isn’t the only benefit. At the end of every evening, when I stand at my sink and go about the routine of washing my dishes, I get a chance to stand there and simply reflect on my day, unhindered (most of the time) by children or the internet. The repetitive action of a task so familiar as to be automatic is relaxing. When you do not own a dishwasher, you quickly develop a method for clearing the table and washing dishes that makes sense in the way that this 1901 instruction guide suggests.

The phrase “rhyme and reason” marries both logic with art. Dishwashing — by hand, old school style — is a lovely bit of both. It’s not drudgery; it’s what you make it.

The Settlement Cook Book, Simon and Schuster, 1901 (1965 edition)

Also from this book: Soliloquy
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