This morning, I was trying to find my lightbox. It’s finally raining in California, praise Neptune, and moisture is so welcome I have to hide my fear of all things dark and cloudy.
But I really can’t make it through winter, even winters that are overcast only 10% of the time. I have biochemical needs, y’all, and bread can’t fill all of my seratonin gaps.
And as I pulled all the sheets down to look in the linen closet, my first thought was, “Seriously, woman, why don’t you fold your sheets?”
My second thought was, “I should really learn how to fold fitted sheets. My grandma can do it, and I’m pretty sure it’s what defines civilized people from uncivilized.”
My third was, “What a bunch of hooey! There is no correlation between civilization and fitted sheets. None. There is no reason I have to fold anything in this linen closet. I am a good person and I absolutely reject the notion that my worth and my family’s happiness revolve around the status of my stupid effing sheets!”
The lies we tell about “should” are increasingly unraveling my thin hold on propriety.
Because here’s the thing. For a long time women were expected to keep house. And there were no floors, but they swept dirt floors. And there was one set of sheets and they washed in the tub (or creek) and scrubbed on the washboard, and they wrung out sheets and banged them against rocks. And they hung their clothes to dry.
And I have no idea what that was like. Maybe I would have folded my sheets.
But now I have an electronic box into which I type my ideas, and buttons to push to get those words sent places, and sometimes someone pays me for those words. And from that box come tales of others in desperate need, forsaken by their government or their employer or their family and pushed into small corners by violence or racism or hatred or hunger or disease.
So you can take your folded fitted sheets and shove them in your linen closet, but I’m fresh out of fucks to give.
I refuse to buy into the bullshit of what I should do. I have never folded my sheets, and though there is something dark inside me telling me I’m wrong and bad and weak for not folding sheets, I absolutely refuse to start now. No way. Folded sheets don’t make me grown up. Making tough choices and doing the best I can and remembering all of every day that I am not the only human trying to make my way on this planet, and that, in fact, many of the rest need help seventeen levels beyond folded goddamned sheets…those are the things that make me a grownup. Holding up friends as they die and bringing dinner to a family whose child is dreadfully ill, that is what makes me a grown-ass, don’t you dare tell me about fitted sheets, woman.
You know what I thought as I defiantly rolled up the sheets and shoved them in the closet after I found my lightbox? I thought, “Eleanor Roosevelt sure as hell wouldn’t want me folding fitted sheets.” What has stuck with me most over the past few days since I finished the biography examining the personal lives of those in the White House during World War II, are two relatively simple concepts: 1) women’s role in society is almost always circumscribed for her by others and 2) really great thinking requires taking long and frequent breaks.
Doris Kearns Goodwin makes very clear that Rosie the Riveter was persona non grata after the war. “Yeah, thanks for the help, but we were kidding about you being important.” Once all the efforts of women on the homefront helped secure peace, years of begging women to sacrifice for the country, of asking them to work as hard as they could, had produced results beyond anyone’s hopes. Women kicked ass in the factories. They owned their work. And they loved doing it. According to Goodwin, 79% of women said after the war that they preferred work to being at home, and 70% of those were married with kids. They preferred being with others doing something meaningful to ironing and folding fitted sheets. Of course they did. So the women wanted to continue to work. But factories fired them without a second thought, telling the women who made the American war effort possible that they weren’t wanted.
And that’s when the propaganda morphed from Rosie the Riveter to Suzy Homemaker. This is the part ringing in my ears a week later…the ads that for years promised automatic dishwashing and automated clothes drying to enable working women were all of a sudden ads for intricate recipes that took all day to prepare. Magazine articles that had urged women to help their men by helping the military-industrial complex became articles about how children whose mothers work grow up to be delinquents and criminals. (All of this is paraphrased, from my faulty memory that is boiling in rage against linen closet manners. This is not my thesis, it represents the tea leaves left in the bottom of my cup by Ms. Goodwin. If you want the exact wording from No Ordinary Time, get it from your library and read for yourself. For now, all you have is me and my seething indignation to go on, so roll with it.)
And so what is the propaganda telling us now, I’ve been mulling this week? Be thin and pretty and submissive, paint yourself perfectly, write the code but don’t criticize what the code depicts or enables, be there for your kids all the time unless you’re a CEO, buy lots of things, have a bucket list, spend time in nature, care about those in need, meditate, do yoga, put away your phone, buy another phone, be fully present every moment of the day, promise to sleep a lot but cheat and barely sleep so you can play the ‘I’m more tired than you are’ game of personal success, and eat only what you’ve grown yourself and spent 48 hours sprouting and 12 hours preparing but then god help you if it’s not raw and exactly as it was hunted by cave people.
Because pancreas. Or something. Spleen? Spleens that you need if you’re freediving, for that burst of oxygen just before you die? Save your freediving spleen with the paleo love of coconut and dates!
Geezus Cheeses on a Cracker. What else are we supposed to do? Please, do give me another list. I’m sure you can tax the limits of human endurance further.
So I see balled up sheets, I begin to tell myself to fold them, and I rage against post-war misogynist propaganda for a while.
Easy enough, right?
Nope. Because the other thing that stuck with me about No Ordinary Time is how much time FDR spent relaxing. And I’m not making any allowances here for his physical pain and exhaustion, and I note that. But I’m not mocking his leisure, so I feel rather free to recap the man’s daily schedule, which included a lot of sleep and entertainment. I’m reiterating what I understood from the book: that his leisure, including copious time spent with good friends over good food and good wine and good games, was integral to his ability to create. That without nightly card games and trips to the islands, he never would have come up with lend-lease. The guy woke late, ate, read, worked a bit, ate, relaxed, worked a bit, and held court in the library every evening. He played cards and spoke with friends and took some time to stare across the yard now and then. And he was a war-time President. I’m guessing he had quite a few things to do. I mean, he didn’t have to submit FSA receipts by the end of this month, or anything, but still.
He managed to take a break several times a day. We don’t do that. As a culture, we don’t do that enough. There are now articles telling you that it’s important to let your brain rest. To do some dishes and let information sink in so you can really process it. The are gorgeous, moving diatribes against productivity that render me incoherent with longing and sadness and a renewed refusal to fold my sheets.
So what is this bullshit about doing everything and having everything? I can’t do or have or be everything. Can’t. Won’t.
I will not fold my fitted sheets.
I will not do yoga retreats.
I will not make my nutty spreads.
I will not make my family’s beds.
I will not mop the stupid floor.
I will not scrub my muddy door.
I will not put my dear self last.
I will not eat my food so fast.
I will not say yes anymore.
I will not take on tasks galore.
I will not keep a crazy pace.
I will not join your insane race.