I used to love to clean. I would scrub my floors, vacuum carpets and polish silver with great joy. I would wash and fold my laundry with pleasure; the fresh smell and the softness of the clothes made me smile. This all changed a few years ago, don’t ask me exactly when or why, perhaps the strain of graduate school finally got to me. Cleaning became a chore, I even contemplated getting someone to clean for me at some point then, but I couldn’t afford it. Soon thereafter, I figured out that dropping off laundry was just as expensive as doing it yourself at the laundromat. I have been giving away my laundry to the cleaners around the corner ever since. What is the story with these laundry stores anyway? They advertise same day cleaning, but if you drop off your clothes after 9 AM this advertisement apparently no longer pertains! And free delivery and pick up? What about the five dollar tip each way? That’s $10.00! Don’t get me wrong, I have a very good relationship with the people in my laundry store, but I wonder sometimes about this not completely truthful advertisement. But back to cleaning. This weekend I finally decided it was time for spring cleaning. With all my windows open, a gentle breeze through my rooms, I suddenly felt overcome by a desire to clean. As I turned on my new banana-yellow Miele vacuum cleaner I even caught myself singing! I cleaned the apartment in four hours and felt extraordinarily satisfied with myself. The thing is, if you no longer love cleaning, you just have to somehow bring yourself to do it. Don’t spend days, or even weeks, wasting time thinking about it. It’s like pulling off a bandaid; just pull it off already. Then it is over.
By popular request, I will write about my dog, Sam. I got Sam from a state animal rescue shelter in East Harlem in 2003, at that time he must have been around one year old, nobody knows for sure. He had been found roaming the streets of Manhattan. Sam is a relatively large dog with black and white border collie markings and a long “Lassie” nose. I think he must be a combination between a border collie and a regular collie. People stop me on the street, telling me how adorable he is (funnily, he often gets mistaken for being a girl). Sam is beautiful, look-wise and personality-wise, and I am not saying this just because he is my dog. He really is.
We have our daily routine. He wakes me up in the mornings by rather rigorously waving his tail against the metal frame of the bed; when he sees I am half-awake, he pushes his long nose in my face. When I turn to the other side of the bed, he repeats the same behavior on the other side, until I finally get up. We go back and forth like this about five times. When I am up he follows me to the kitchen, where I start preparing his food. He goes back into the bedroom and watches me do this from a distance, it is unclear to me why he does this when he would have been welcome to stay in the kitchen! He eats his food and I sit with my coffee in front of the lap-top. After a while, he starts bringing me a selection of his large, soft toys (he has nine), usually it is the porcupine and the goose. He plays with them for a while and then starts literally tossing them at me for attention. He wants to go outside for his morning walk. We usually spend 45 minutes to an hour in Central Park. Then I go to work and he sleeps. When I return home, he welcomes me by dancing around like a mad-dog, smiling and wagging his tail. I feed him and take him out and then he gets a rawhide bone, which, it seems, he has been looking forward to all day. We go to sleep, Sam in his basket next to my bed.
Sam has a certain way about him. In the park, he is known as “the Sheriff,” simply due to the fact that when he is playing free with other dogs in a group he doesn’t really play, but rather makes sure that all is in order. He barks and herds dogs into certain areas where he thinks they should be. On my street block, he exhibits a similar behavior, barking at skateboarders and cyclists who are rolling down the hill. They usually just smile and move on. He loves people and is especially fond of children, with whom he is remarkably gentle. One of his favorite persons in the world is the superintendent in my building. When the two of them have a moment, which is usually twice per day, I am completely ignored. But Sam is the happiest when we go on trips to the country and he can roam outside freely with other dogs. When we return to the city, he is usually exhausted and put him up on top of the bed and he soon falls asleep, dreaming.
Sam is now approaching eleven and is still behaving like a young dog. But parts of his coat are gray and he has arthritis. He walks noticeably slower and stops to sniff a lot when we are on our walks. I sometimes get impatient, but then stop myself and slow down, let him go on in his own pace. My mind wanders to the day when he will no longer be here, I know that day will come. My eyes tear up then; I envision myself taking off for weeks from work, not being able to cope at all. But then I always force myself to push these kinds of thoughts away. He is here now. I treasure every moment.
I now have a personal trainer. This did not use to be the case. Only a few years back, I would look forward to my five weekly Bikram Yoga classes or put in with enthusiasm 30 miles of running per week training for a half-marathon. But for the past year or so my discipline and motivation to exercise have dwindled, largely due to my challenging job. So I joined a gym and with it signed up for a trainer, let’s call him Mike. Mike is strict with me and I like it, there is not really any other way of putting it. He organizes my weekly exercise schedule and bosses me around in the gym. Surprisingly, there is a sense of relief in being able to give in to him being in charge for one hour per week. Honestly, I think I have a little crush on him. How could I not! There is something so intimate about the personal trainer/client relationship. We see each other regularly. Mike has seen me at my worst, sweating and exhausted, and he knows things about me that I would only tell a friend. Of course our relationship would never go any further than that. The mutual unspoken understanding that is implicit in a contract with a personal trainer is that one would never go beyond the gym setting. But, ultimately, I think the the forbidden quality of this contract becomes the source of all kinds of fantasies and desires. The fantasy of the personal trainer as a personal caretaker is part of what makes the client motivated to return.
This morning I hopped on the subway heading downtown. When I got off I walked crosstown to a well-known Manhattan meditation center where public meditation sittings are scheduled on Sundays from 9 AM to 12 Noon. I used to go to this institute often a few years ago, but I stopped, I really don’t know why. Meditating today was special to me for two reasons; one, the sitting was led by my best friend, who had continued meditating at the institute after I had stopped and reached very high levels in her training, and two, I had not meditated for a long time. I was looking forward to this. When I entered the space, people (perhaps ten or so) were walking quietly in a circle. I joined them, walking. Then we all sat down. At first, I didn’t remember that I needed to focus on my breathing, external sounds were distracting me. And, now and then, I peeked over at my friend sitting on a little raised area in front of us; I was so proud of her for doing this, it was an incredible achievement that had required a lot of discipline. Then I caught myself. I closed my eyes, focusing on breathing in and out, gently pushing intrusive thoughts away. I was with it; my mind was clear and my heart was open. We walked again in silence. And then we sat down. Breathing. There is something very fundamental about sitting in a room meditating with a group of other people that one does not know. They are strangers and one is aware of their presence and also not. We meet in this room, we spend time together and then we leave. Not a word is spoken. It is the essence of peacefulness.
I am someone who needs a routine. I need structure. I need to be able to have a set of guidelines to make my day more efficient; mostly it is a matter of time and money. My weekday routine looks something like this: coffee in front of laptop (perhaps write a blog post), walk dog for about an hour, get ready for work, commute to work, work 9 to 5 (eat breakfast and lunch at work), commute (or walk) home, feed and walk dog, feed self, gym, sleep. There are slight variations to this, sometimes I have dinner with people after work, or go to a movie. But basically, that is my weekday routine. I have phases when I get tired of sticking to the routine and skip it. Then I end up taking only short walks with the dog, spend money on taxis, am late for work and don’t go to the gym. I am left with a sense that I have broken the rules (my own, I know) and there is something strangely satisfying about that, but in the long run, costly and not good at all. Being naughty and not sticking to the routine does not pay off! I end up feeling guilty and I rush. So it is back to the routine, perhaps even fine-tuning it to make it more efficient. Come to think of it, that is the ultimate challenge, to better the routine! For instance, make lunch at home and take it to work and leave early for work to avoid rushing. But regardless, I know, we all know, that the temptation to break the routine will be there again. Routine can be so incredibly monotone and boring; it requires too much discipline and motivation. The greatest way to endure the necessary routine is to integrate here and there some form of creativity; writing, reading, painting, listening to music. And laughter too. Life can’t just be all work and no play.