This is the season for cleaning. Cleaning the house for family to arrive for graduations and recitals, cleaning bikes and water toys and deck furniture since it is supposedly summer - even here in Vermont. The BBQ, the dog bed, the garden beds and closet drawers. Everything needs attention after a long winter and dim light.
I get overwhelmed. Regular schedules and demands continue and the little time I have left I want to spend outside and play instead of preparing for it.
How do I start, where do I start, and why?
The why is easy - because I am a civilized human and I like things organized in order to not get overwhelmed and I like to take care of my things so they last longer and even animals make their dens, build nests, clean their feathers and furs.
Where do I start? I remember one of these inspirational cards at the grocery store: “Start anywhere” That makes sense. I’ll start with the laundry pile that’s already calving and flowing out the laundry room door. Then, once the washing machine is loaded and doing its job, I’ll start dusting and cleaning my house from top to bottom, shelf by shelf and room by room.
How do I start? That’s the hardest part. My mind is immersed in work projects, family time and memories from my most recent travels. How can I give attention to the mundane when more intriguing projects are calling louder? How do I start? I just started. Pushed my thoughts aside, got up a little earlier in the morning and started without thinking. I made myself go through the motions, just like starting a long climb on the mountain. One step after the other, breath out, breath in. One piece of laundry and one foot of floor space after the other.
All the while, I did notice my mind pulling me away while my hands were moving laundry or pushing the vacuum cleaner. Since I am deeply immersed in working on my new site specific performance piece I felt torn. I heard myself think “You should be spending time in the studio, and at the site. This cleaning thing is such a waste of time.” That train of thought lead me to the question:
What is site specific work? How do I practice it?
Studying a site, a landscape, requires immersion. I need to be head deep in the environment in order to learn and understand it. That's research from within, an important dimension added to the more traditional cognitive research process. Only the complete immersion allows all my senses to be engaged. Only then can I understand a site in all its dimensions: it's textures, smells, rhythms, history and possibilities.
How is the process of cleaning different? Isn’t this act of immersion a complete study of this site that I call my home? How else could I study and engage with this site that is so familiar and at the same time always new?
Seeing the process of deep cleaning as site specific study shifted my energy. I am now able to give my full attention to the process of cleaning and organizing. Handling each piece of laundry, gear and furniture allows me to reflect and ask questions. I am processing memories, I notice things that have become obsolete and need to get handed on, things that need repair, books that I had forgotten how meaningful they were and now re-inspire, dishes that had been misplaced and stray socks that have been missing. I notice how things are made, how a seam on my ski glove is coming apart and how the hats still smell like winter. Pulling out swim towels and lifejackets fill me with excitement and anticipation as well as last summer’s memories. Each piece holds so much information. At the end of my cleaning time I have relived and processed a whole winter filled with adventure, growth, challenges and play. I have learned new things about myself and my family, following our trails through our home in one season and the dreams and hopes I am anticipating for the coming season.
The mundane holds meaning, stories and experiences, sets a stage, opens doors and offers opportunities. I now understand cleaning as another form of site specific work, deeply inspiring. A practice in paying attention, engaging all senses, leaning in and careful listening. A practice in gratitude and loving care for ourselves, our family and our environment.