Willing Cost of a Clean Mind

My hands crack in the winter. More specifically, my thumbs crack wide open. Sometimes they’ll bleed, but usually it just hurts like hell.  This year it was my right hand that got the worst of it.  And actually, this winter wasn’t so bad, probably because the winter was so mild. Or perhaps because I found this cream, O’Keeffe’s Working Hands, at Grove Pharmacy this year.  Who knows.

When I was really young, it was my feet.  They would crack and split and my dad would rub in Nivea while I writhed in pain. I remember pulling out tiny, aching sock threads from the healing cracks between my toes.  I enjoyed the strange combination of pain and accomplishment, like removing an ingrown hair that has lain coiled and waiting for my frustration to prompt an emergency attack.

I know why my hands are so dry, and I know why my thumbs crack and bleed.  It’s the dishes.  It’s the dishes, and it’s my refusal to wear the rubber gloves I buy and then neglect.  I love the sound and the feel of water gushing out of the faucet. And moving a sponge around a pan or plate or inside a plastic Toy Story cup is relaxing for me.  With the gloves on, it becomes an awkward chore to be put off and avoided, so I trade smooth hands and  painless thumbs for brief moments of connection to water and a chance to block out everything but the rhythmic, cleansing turns around a crusty soup bowl or caked-on pasta plate.

Over a sink of dirty dishes, usually as water runs over my hands and wrists, I’ve sobbed, grumbled, argued, sniffled, and pulled myself together.  It’s a form of therapy to perform a useful but mundane and repetitive task.  It’s time during which I can’t hear much of what’s going on around me, and it’s an act that both literally and metaphorically cleanses me.  Scrubbing the dishes, washing the day’s sustenance from our plates, reminds me where I am and where I’ve been.  And in the same way, feeling the pain in my (posable) thumbs – knowing I have chosen to allow the skin to break open, to expose it to the world – makes me feel real and alive and human.

I’m linking up with Yeah Write once again against my better judgment. I’m not regretting the linking – just the rushed submitting.  I’d love to hear some revision suggestions from the wonderful writers of YW48.  
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About That Unique* Weblog

Adjusting to the car culture, dealing with leaving a career I love, and spouting off along the way.
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41 Responses to Willing Cost of a Clean Mind

  1. I get it. But then again I enjoy laundry and vacuuming, so…

  2. Carla says:

    You can come to my house for your “therapy” anytime

  3. Jennifer says:

    Ouch, your poor hands. I, too, have been known to cry over a running faucet of water. xoxo

  4. I was just talking to some of our friends about this. We all have a household chore, but we all have one we love or at least don’t mind too much. This piece is what I would call a vignette—a little prose snapshot of your life writ small. And it was sweet and happy and fulfilling. We learned a lot about you from your hand-washing which is one of the more masterly arts of writing. Bravo! Erin

  5. heidi says:

    My daughter can get terrible excema, so I could just feel this.

    I really loved this…”It’s time during which I can’t hear much of what’s going on around me, and it’s an act that both literally and metaphorically cleanses me. Scrubbing the dishes, washing the day’s sustenance from our plates, reminds me where I am and where I’ve been. And in the same way, feeling the pain in my (posable) thumbs – knowing I have chosen to allow the skin to break open, to expose it to the world – makes me feel real and alive and human.” I get that. That need to connect.

  6. I love my dishwasher, but I also have this weird obsession with having the water on the hottest setting possible to do the rinsing. Am I a sadist? Possibly.

    I find I think more doing the laundry. This of course being adding the laundry and the soap. I stop at unloading the dryer and folding. 🙂

  7. Delilah says:

    I have a sinkful of therapy waiting for you right now! Doors open, come on in.

    The laundry is my therapy. I have worked through many a problem with sorting, folding and putting away the laundry.

  8. Lenore Diane says:

    I echo Kim’s sentiment, I get it. But, similar to Kim my chore of choice is vacuuming and mowing the lawn. For me, the loud noise of the vacuum and lawn mower help drown out the thoughts in my head. It is a time of silence amidst the loud noise.

    But flowing water … the splashes made while washing … yes, I get it.

  9. Beej says:

    Ever since mp3 players became so handy, I’ve been a vacuumer (vacuumist? vacuumoso?)! Blasting music directly into my head loud enough to drown out the vacuum takes me back to my skinny days of the mid-90s. It’s a veritable fountain of youth. And premature deafness. But whatevs.

  10. While it’s not the dishes, I have a few things that I do ever night to focus to renew to recharge. You writing really moved me, well written with much conveyed in few words.

  11. I have the thumb thing too and I generally ignore the gloves to in spite of the pain. Can’t say doing the dishes does it for me though. Maybe if just once I could turn around and not find another in there I’d feel better about it (I prefer a chore that eventually ends, you know?).

  12. If you like cleaning floors as much as you do doing dishes, come over to my place anytime!

  13. Katie says:

    My hands are callused and cracked, too. I spent years cleaning a horse barn as a teenager, and the calluses and dryness has never left. I know exactly what you mean about the action of washing the dishes being therapeutic. Cleaning stalls was the same for me. I’m pretty sure people think I’m crazy when I say that, because I was, after all, shoveling horse crap, but honestly, the physicality of it, the sense of accomplishment was so great; it made me just feel great.

    So I get it, definitely. Cracked and dry hands be damned.

    • That sounds really wonderful, actually. But I’m a horse nut. I would have LOVED to clean stalls as a teenager if it meant I could be around horses all day. Of course, I say that only having cleaned maybe two stalls in my life – for a Girl Scout badge.

  14. Ouch, but I totally get it. The pain almost breathing life into the therapeutic mundane. One of my past therapists used to tell me to do housework when I was upset or having anxiety because it would refocus my attention….now, I when I clean like a crazy person so you always know if I am mad at my husband:) I hope those hands feel better, less cracked but your soul still feels alive.

    • Thanks for stopping in! I have to wonder if it’s similar to triggering endorphins through tattoos or piercings. Although, I dread the onset of the cracks – there is still satisfaction in the pain.

  15. myhonestanswer says:

    You need to change your dish soap – it shouldn’t do that!

  16. christina says:

    holy crap i could FEEL you pulling the threads from your socks off your feet. YOUCH!

  17. Stacey says:

    My middle son has eczema and his fingers seem to be in a constant state of cracking. It doesn’t seem to bother him so much (yet), but every time I look at them, I just shiver. I would think it would be very much the way you describe it. (PS – Washing dishes clears my mind too.)

  18. Oh your poor hands. 😦 Have you looked into some kind of soap that will maybe lessen the damage?

  19. Ado says:

    I think it is so very quirky – and astonishing – that you won’t wear the gloves. I am totally opposite of you and really and truly don’t enjoy washing/cleaning dishes! Maybe you should suck it up and start using gloves, or maybe that hand-cream you got will start working miracles. Good luck!

    • I know it’s silly, but the gloves make me feel so uncomfortable. Had the winter been more dry and cold, I may have started using gloves. As it was, this was a pretty easy winter for cracking skin.

  20. I don’t mind dishes either. I love a clean kitchen and I like listening to the noises, usually my husband and children from a distance :-} And my thumbs look just like that!

  21. Emily says:

    I love the way you’re playing with the things that make us feel real and human and connected: the comfort of little routines; the pain that reminds us we’re alive. I love way you ended, too, with your open skin, broken and throbbing, making you feel more real. This was a fascinating perspective, and wonderfully well written!

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