New Year’s resolutions are tempting. It’s hard not to write out a list of all the things I’ll do and be as of the first day of a new year. But I won’t let myself do it. Lists are like magic to me: if I write it down, it must be so, even though a total stranger glancing over my shoulder could tell within a few seconds my ambition far exceeds the minutes in a day, never mind the limited energy of a body and mind — especially mine.
So, I suppose my new year’s resolution is not to do that. Instead of the hoping for perfection to arrive tomorrow, I will begrudgingly try to accept today. This does not sound particularly exciting or inspiring. It’s more fun to imagine tomorrow’s brilliance. Today’s realities seem so dingy in comparison.
Just before midnight last night, I realized how I might practice this effort of accepting what is rather than pining for what I’d rather it be.
I listened in as a few people talked about rediscovering the pleasure of cooking, and I nodded in understanding as one woman exclaimed, “Except cleaning up. You get fifteen minutes of enjoying your meal and then forty-five minutes to clean up.”
This is what drives me crazy about movies, novels, celebrity chefs — cleaning up almost never gets discussed. One exception is Gabrielle Hamilton’s memoir Blood, Bones & Butter but it’s such an extreme example involving a dead rat that it hardly counts. In the recently published Toro Bravo cookbook by John Gorham and Liz Crain, however, there’s a whole paragraph from Gorham:
Enjoy cleaning. The media’s turned chefs into rock stars, but so many people now see the glamor and don’t realize how hard and unglamorous cooking can be. Half the job is cleaning up: washing, cleaning, scrubbing, wiping. Enjoy that too.
How? How do I learn to enjoy the cleaning?
Many years ago, I heard the poet Lawson Inada tell a story about washing up after dinner. He felt agitated and stressed, but something disrupted his grumbling, and he decided to be present and simply wash one bowl at a time, mindfully placing each one in the dish drainer.
If I have a new year’s resolution, and I don’t, it’s to wash one bowl at a time. To face the kitchen counter after a good homemade meal and not wish for it to be anything other than what it is. Embrace the task at hand.
If I can master this with dirty dishes, just imagine all the other imperfect parts of life I might be able to accept, all the exertion I could avoid by no longer trying to will things to be what they are not. Peace of mind could be just a few dinners away.
(Just in case you think I’m an utter wimp, it might be important to add here that we don’t have a dishwasher, just a sink, a sponge, some soap, and green gloves so bulky my guy calls me The Hulk.)