I had a dream that Russel Norman moved into our flat. He seemed sad. We didn't talk about it but it seemed clear that he was moving into our flat because he had lost the election, and hence his job. It was also clear that he had split up from his wife. I felt very bad for Norman, but I found it hard to hide my excitement when he turned up with a beautiful handcarved hardwood dinner table - still with the rough outline of the tree it had been made from. It was sad, and slightly awkward, that Russel had to move into our flat, but I was very excited about the table. We went outside and Russel started critiquing my compost. I was embarrassed. He told me it needed more dry matter and proceeded to dismantle the bin and rebuild it from scratch. I guess the compost will be his job from now on.
Dishwashing quietly underpins my existence. It's the constant, bubbling engine; a ritual I started in my early teens with the supportive encouragement of my parents. I've kept it up more or less religiously ever since, as a student and later as an adult (at least that's the order as I recall).
I try to spend at least ten minutes in front of a sink, two or three times every day. I usually do this after breakfast or dinner, for reasons I can't explain. Instinct I guess. It's a ritual, indispensable to my physical and mental health and detrimental to my skin. It's an essentially egalitarian pursuit, all you need is hot water and some kind of detergent (expensive brands are often overrated and gloves are for career dishies and poseurs only). Don't pay more than $10 combined for a brush and green scrubby, it's truly not worth it.
Sink work is a solitary exercise, like walking or cycling, and it leaves time to contemplate things like how sticky scrambled eggs are, or what you'd rather be doing. I like my water hotter than some, scrub at a high cadence, and stack like a banshee. But I don't measure my performance against anyone but myself- that's not the dishwasher's code.
My Dad taught me the merit of a good pre-soak- no one likes drying a wet plate that's still cold. I tend to air dry these days, rather than work a double configuration (the latest science says its more hygienic), but the principle is universal and has gotten me as far in business as any textbook or seminar. My mother taught me that if you drain and rinse the sink afterwards, your mother won't be angry and make you do it when you want to play Civilisation II.
It's funny really- I've found that if I miss more than a few days of dishwashing in a row, my relationships immediately suffer and my bench space lessens to nearly nothing. If I miss more than a week I find dirty porridge pans in my side of the bed, which interferes with my sleep. Neglecting this daily exercise leads to the rapid deterioration of my spiritual health and diet, to the point that I eat off the floor. Why? That is the mystery of it. I can only conclude that dishwashing is entangled and ensconced in my life in a myriad mysterious and deep-rooted ways, its benefits stretching beyond the groping reach of my timid philosophy.
I hope to continue washing dishes in my own home well into my thirties.
With weak apologies to Haruki Murakami, who I won't be able to outrun.
There's a scene in Richard Linklater's new film Boyhood where Ethan Hawke's character and his son, who is now fifteen, are chatting on a muddy river bank. Hawke picks up a stone, says something like "let me show you how this is done" and throws it low over the water. In a less compassionate, worse movie (Nebraska, say), he slips and falls in the mud, the son looks away in embarrassment, and the stone lands with a single splash three paces away. In the screening I saw at the Embassy yesterday, the capacity crowd gasped as the stone skimmed half a dozen times on the river. It was a small moment of real triumph; what we wanted but didn't expect. It felt like we had witnessed something actually happen, which is what theatre is always trying to achieve, and seldom this successfully.
The movie was made over twelve years, following a boy from age seven to eighteen. I've been thinking about why it was so moving and affecting for me, and maybe it's because the extreme and real compression of time meant that the lives of the characters were laid out in a way that made them more vulnerable and knowable than in any film I can think of. While the characters lived naturally in the moment, the changing bodies of the actors accumulated the 'ghosts' of previous selves in my perception of them. The characters' lives drifted and changed, and the camera watched without judgement or cruelty, acknowledging contradictions rather than exposing inevitable hypocrisy or failures. Like the otherwise entirely different Game of Thrones, trying to predict the overall story or direction of this film was not possible, and here it was not even encouraged. Real life doesn't follow that kind of arc, and it wasn't about playing 'gotcha' with our expectation of what happens next. Through this perspective, the film made me focus intensely and empathetically on the present situation of the characters. I listened intently to this person's political diatribe, that person's explanation of sex education. I had nowhere else I wanted to be.
The adult characters grapple with the real world, the boy gets ready to enter it. I identified with both, associating my own youth with Mason's, and at the same time, like the adult characters, feeling like a world-weary uncle to him- which I guess is what we always do with younger people we like. With breathtaking boldness, Linklater shows generic situations again and again - the teen break-up, the naval gazing conversations about alienation, the pillow fights in the back seat- and dares us to say they don't matter. It is clear, as the incredibly beautiful and witty final shot points out, that moments matter when they're happening to you. And they always are.
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