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A public conversation about our worlds.

  • Monday: Morgan J. Locke
  • Tuesday: Madeleine E. Robins
  • Wednesday: Maureen F. McHugh
  • Thursday: Bradley Denton
  • Friday: Steven Gould
  • Saturday: Caroline Spector
  • Sunday: Rory Harper

Brain Activity



O Furacão Branco

October 16th, 2007 by Madeleine Robins

spring_cleaning.jpg
Yesterday I was explaining entropy to Sarcasm Girl. Started out with the Big Bang theory and went on from there, but finally told her: just think of our dining room table. No matter how much stuff I clear off of it, more appears. The table remains the dumping ground for everything in the house. Not just mail, but candy (after Spouse and YG have been out on a debauch), college catalogs, books, music moved from the piano to the table (for some reason Sarcasm Girl cannot play piano with the music on the rack), books, oddments of hardware, picture frames, bus passes, BART cards, hair brushes and innumerable scrunchies and hairbands, dog toys, newspapers, spare change… I find it, after a while, depressing; there are so many corners of the house in which this sort of clunky emphemera accumulates: stuff to be dealt with, or thrown out, or just put down until one can think of a better place for it. The girls’ rooms are full of it, as is the Spouse’s desk (and mine isn’t much better, but I hold fast to the excuse that after cleaning up after everyone else I don’t have the energy to tidy my own space).

But every two weeks I attempt to tame entropy, when The White Tornado (O Furacão Branco) comes. O Furacåo is from Brazil (where her nine-year-old daughter still lives) but lives with her husband and year-old baby in Daly City. She is petite and pretty and enthusiastic, and speaks a wonderful, vivid mix of English, Spanish and Portugese, telling me stories about the baby and her plans to bring her daughter to the States to live with her. And she takes immense pleasure in cleaning up the house; the reason I go around trying to tame the pools of entropy is so that O Furacão doesn’t feel she has to organize as well as clean, because she will, and that’s not fair to her.

When we first hired her I felt incredibly weird about it. It’s not like I was forcing her to come clean my bathrooms; she advertised the service, we pay for it, everyone is happy. But I feel great depths of guilt about hiring someone to do a thing I could do myself. The Spouse notes that just because I can do something doesn’t make it a good use of my time (he points this out, particularly, when I propose painting, laying a new floor, stripping wall paper, or taking up the awful hall carpet to find out what’s under it–all things I could do, but….). I still feel weird sometimes when O Furacão comes because I sit here with my laptop, Emily tucked under my arm, while she is doing physical labor on my behalf. I feel like an Oppressor. I feel like a Bad Person.

She doesn’t seem to feel that I am either, of course. We chat. I pay her. At Christmas, we exchange cards and presents. I send her home with homemade jam or banana bread if we happen to have some around. It’s a nice relationship, in fact. I just feel that if I were a good person I’d clean my own floors. But I know for a fact that floor-cleaning, while something I can accomplish, is something that would be pushed off to the moment just before the Health Department condemned the house. And I know as well that when things get too dirty and too disorganized–when entropy, as it will, increases–I get depressed and oppressed and soggy and hard to light. She helps prevent this sogginess, which makes everyone around here happier (even if the others don’t see this as clearly as I do). So as long as O Furacão Branco is happy to come tame the chaos, I’ll be happy to clean up beforehand.

Posted in Daily Life, Mad, Sarcasm Girl | 13 Comments »

13 Responses

  1. Steven Gould Says:

    The great struggle (when we’ve been able to afford cleaning help) is always getting the house clean enough to be cleaned–clutter.

  2. Caroline Spector Says:

    This is the on-going bete noir of my life. Yes, I *can* clean house, but after spending eight freaking hours getting things sorted out, I’m too damn tired to clean.

  3. Madeleine Robins Says:

    Ayup. I figure I can keep the chaos manageable or I can clean, but not both. I can get someone to clean, so the chaos falls to me.

  4. Maureen McQ Says:

    I had a wonderful person come clean my house for several years in Ohio. And I had tremendous guilt. I even asked Eleanor Arneson (Marxist, Feminist, and all around smart person) if maybe it was wrong. She didn’t think so. Ginger, who cleaned my house didn’t think so. Why is it we think so, Mad?

  5. Madeleine Robins Says:

    Maybe it’s because, as you said once elsewhere, we’re both women of a certain age, and the idea of farming out distasteful jobs that we should be doing ourselves makes us feel guilty? When I was small we had a wonderful housekeeper and occasional babysitter who, among other things, probably kept my mother sane by her pacific presence. God knows that my mother had no problem having Alice do the housework at that point when my family could afford her.

    Or maybe you and I are just the same person. Has anyone ever seen us together?

  6. Stan Says:

    A certain amount of entropy is a good thing. Surf the wave of chaos, don’t try to hold it back…

  7. Caroline Spector Says:

    You know, I, too, often feel waves of guilt at having help. On the other hand, The Dude has 25 people to help him do his job and I don’t hear anyone telling him he’s lazy.

    Keeping up with a family and a home is an enormous task. And it’s invisble. No one notices if you’ve *done* the job only if you *haven’t*.

    I like to call it Perpetual Drudgery. And I (and those of you who do housework) will never get to retire from this job. That’s right. Housework goes on until you give up or they slide your body into the cold ground.

    And since we have all these miracle tools to help to the job of house keeping, the expected level of clean has risen dramatically.

    Oh, and why is housework a demeaning thing to pay someone to perform, but it’s not demeaning when you do it yourself for free? How can feminists have such a contempt for “women’s work?”

    Jumping off soap box now…

  8. Steven Gould Says:

    No one notices if you’ve *done* the job only if you *haven’t*.

    Ouch.

  9. Madeleine Robins Says:

    Oh, hell, Caroline: stay on the damned soapbox. I’ll just push mine over next to yours.

  10. Rev. Raven Daegmorgan Says:

    We have outside help with my son, due to various issues, and I always feel guilty asking the person being paid to help deal with him to do so. Which I know is ridiculous, but still…there’s this huge guilt complex about it.

    I’ve been thinking it has to do with cultural expectations: we feel guilty because our culture tells us we should be. We’re Americans, and we should be both hard-working and independent, not having to rely on anyone else, because otherwise we’re contemptuous, lazy failures.

    Stupid Americans.

  11. Ken Houghton Says:

    Entropy always wins. As long as it doesn’t in the kitchen, even if it means having to discuss “the servant problem,” you’re fine.

  12. Rory Harper Says:

    I find cleaning house to be a wonderful way to avoid doing other work that I don’t feel talented or smart enough to do at the time.

    Writing, music-making, certain kinds of complex computer repair, and so on. Cleaning doesn’t trigger my perfectionism because, if I don’t clean up perfectly, well, who gives a shit, really?

    I suppose the same could be said about those other things, too, but that’s not what my Internal Critic tells me.

    I also have a distinct alter ego that I call Mr. Tidy. Rach has seen him in action over the years. He assumes control of my body and cleans house, often for half a day, when the messiness pushes him over the edge.

    …As I’ve aged, he tends to be less active….

  13. Steven Gould Says:

    Poor Rory came and visited us in New York when we had a one-year-old. He was warned it might be messy.

    Mr. Tidy came out.

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