Contemplation station

Everyone derives inspiration from somewhere: listening to music, going for a run, reading, spending time in nature, watching documentaries, strolling through a museum or gallery, creating art of some kind…the possibilities are innumerable. For the ancient Greeks, the Muses were accredited with bestowing inspiration on humans. For Petrarch, it was Laura, and Dante had his Beatrice, but modern thinking more commonly lodges the derivation of imaginative spark in a scatterplot of places and sources. As a child, I had a Thinking Spot outside the house where two bushes were planted to hide the well cap, forming an enclave where they grew together in which I set up a chair in view of the bird feeder. In later years, like many people, I did some of my best thinking in the shower. I’m not entirely sure why this is so common; maybe it’s the steam causing us to breathe more deeply combined with the white noise of the sluicing water combined with the solitude combined with the rote movements and motions we’re enacting that require very little cerebral engagement. Add to those aspects the fact that we’re practicing personal maintenance that’s also a kind of self-care. Here we are, tending to the hygiene and upkeep of our physical selves, a routine choreography that’s essentially self-serving but feels compulsory, a system of cleansing that perhaps also enables the clearing of our minds. In any case, I used to pull back the shower curtain with a new idea effervescing most days, whether it be an improvement I’d like to make to a recipe or a word I wanted to look up and explore further or a connection about something I’d seen or heard or a memory of something I’d forgotten.

That was mostly in my twenties. In my thirties, the majority of my showers were long-awaited events during which I hurried through the kinesics of shampooing and shaving in hopes that no baby would start screaming or toddler would somehow scale a bookshelf (despite the childproofed sockets and lack of bookshelves in the room in which I’d safety-latched them) before I’d at least rinsed most of the conditioner out of my hair. Now, at the age of forty, I have recently identified my new Thinking Spot, a different kind of spot that incorporates both space and time. The space is the square foot of floor on which I stand in front of the kitchen sink (one of my top tips for new homebuyers is this: make sure you really like the view from the kitchen sink, because that’s a vista you’re committing a great deal of your life to beholding even if you do have a dishwasher). The time is when no children are within earshot (this means while they’re at school or asleep; we all know that if they’re awake and in the general vicinity of the house, our stream of consciousness is at any minute susceptible to having a dam jammed directly into the current, so it makes sense to postpone the allowance of mental thoroughfare until it can flow freely).

I’m not entirely sure why this is, but maybe it’s the steam causing us to breathe more deeply combined with the white noise of the sluicing water combined with the solitude combined with the rote movements and motions we’re enacting that require very little cerebral engagement. Add to those aspects the fact that we’re practicing family-related maintenance that serves as the means to a highly desirable end: an empty sink. Chore complete. Tabula rasa. Here we are, tending to the hygiene and upkeep of our pots and pans and plates and utensils, the tools we use to feed ourselves and our children, a routine choreography that puts the world back in order just the tiniest bit, a system of cleansing that perhaps also enables the clearing of our minds.

I wonder when that tipping point was, exactly, when washing oneself became less therapeutic and provided less peace of mind than doing the dishes in a quiet house. I’m guessing it was right around the beginning of the pandemic, when things spiraled so far beyond our wildest dreams of control and when showering became less urgent because, well, I wasn’t going to be seeing anyone aside from my nuclear family most days. That would make sense because it was also the beginning of a long stretch of time when all of the food we consumed was being prepared in this house, and everyone was home for every meal of every day, so a lot more dirty dishes were generated on a daily basis. At any rate, I look forward to later tonight, when the sugarplums are tucked up snug in their beds, and I can crank hot water from the kitchen faucet as high as it goes, breathe in the soapy aroma of steam, and hope an idea or two slot themselves into my consciousness as comfortably as a set of pasta bowls nesting against the contours of the top rack in the dishwasher.

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