22 Jan Tasks of daily living
Re-reading my ‘Morning Pages’ – a little splurge of writing I try to do each day – I came across an entry about ten days ago.
I was just washing up the dishes after putting some bannocks (thick, gritty, farl-shaped oatcakes) in the oven and making a 3-day pot of lentil soup when it struck me that the little tasks of daily living are sometimes a haven.
This followed days of being anxious about not getting down to anything, not working something out, letting time slip through my hands, not doing any writing. Those days are tough – the images of new books in tall, pristine piles on tables in Waterstones none of them with my name on, the echo of parental urgings to not waste time, the morality tales of idleness. They make me realise how, even after 50 years or so, it’s hard to throw off the Protestant Ethics (the PE) of my upbringing!
On those restless days I sometimes feel resentful of the tasks of daily living. They’re demeaning, something to be got through because I ought to be doing something more meaningful/ worthwhile/ creative/ fulfilling/ [Delete as appropriate]. Or else I feel they’re a trap – a conspiracy to side-track me, make me avoid doing the things I should be doing – like writing. That’s only one ‘ought’ and one ‘should’ but there are lots more of them in the conversations inside my head. Oh yes. If you could but hear them you’d see what I mean about the PE.
Ten days ago I was still feeling a bit unwell from a bug that announced itself on Christmas Eve. Like the Anti-Saviour. January – incremental gains in daylight hours that should gladden the heart are cancelled out by lung-entrenched bacteria audaciously digging in to fight off the bombardment of incrementally more potent antibiotics. The heart was less than glad, I can tell you. The mood dampened by chemical compounds. The well-laid plans to ramp up the walking and exercise regime lying in tatters at my slippered feet.
However. That day the grip of the PE loosened as it dawned on me: ‘Perhaps I should surrender myself to getting better’. I know, hardly an epiphany though, ironically, it was very close to Epiphany. Which may mean something.
I started to embrace the daily tasks more as familiar friends come to spend time together. Here’s something I can do! Why not take the time? Making marmalade helps. It’s a ritual you can’t rush but that you can allow to absorb you. The timing, the preparation of ingredients, how and when you add them, the squeezing of every last drop of pectin from the little muslin bag of pips tied to the handle of my grandmother’s old soup pan. All these steps are grounding, they slow the pace of the world down, bring it indoors where orange-scented molecules of air waft through the house, cling to my clothes, tease the tiny hairs in my nostrils with a sweet aroma of childhood.
I take time to do the things I normally rush so that I can get onto the next thing. The lovely thing about giving time to those daily tasks is that I feel less hounded. And I can set other things aside. Like when my head is full of thoughts and ideas but they’re all a bit elusive. If I try to catch hold of them I might just sit at my desk and have to wait. Which can be very demoralising and result in all sorts of shifting jotters around, swopping pens, moving books, googling the weather forecast or knitting patterns, deleting emails, staring out into the garden.
Must stop now. Off to hang out the washing and make the bed…