The ants have marched into my basement, a silent announcement that spring has arrived.
While I’m wondering how long they’ll last on the sandwich crumbs left over from lunches eaten at my desk, everyone else seems to be cleaning.
My friends are scrubbing, scouring, vacuuming, washing and organizing as if these tidy tasks will ready them for summer’s swimsuit season or something.
Vigorous housework is apparently an aerobic activity.
According to Jillian Michaels’ website, vacuuming for 30 minutes burns roughly 90 calories while mopping burns 112 and scrubbing the floor on your hands and knees burns about 200.
This information surprised me, especially since I don’t remember the television trainer ever making weight loss contestants perform household chores as a workout.
That’s probably because online counters say the calories purportedly eliminated while achieving clean floors might be enough to offset a turkey sandwich and an apple. That’s not even an entire lunch.
While I admire and applaud spring’s seasonal torrent of tidiness that comes when cloud cover, snow and rain give way to sunshine, I have to admit I only participate in the spring rite when I’m procrastinating. Or when company is coming.
Writers aren’t supposed to clean.
Part of the art of writing is observing and describing details others might miss. Writers see the scorn behind the curl of the lip, for example, and they notice the nervous energy of a jiggling knee. They recall the sting of rain when riding during a cloud-burst and the aroma of sweaty gym socks spritzed with Febreze.
For some, observation is a natural knack, but it’s also an acquired skill that can only be honed by watching, listening, smelling, tasting and touching – then writing everything down.
Writers who work from home must also turn off their observation antennae and become oblivious to dirty socks, dog hair and the general debris that accumulates from living. It’s the only way to meet deadline.
That’s one reason I’ve become adept at ignoring stains in the sink, fingerprints around the light switches and streaks from my dog’s nose on the sliding glass door.
When I roll my office chair up to my desk it’s also imperative that I disregard the dust bunnies that scuttle across the floor.
Yes, they’ll multiply until they’re clustered in every corner and crevice and huddled under every piece of furniture. That’s what dust bunnies do, an apparent attempt to mimic the rapid reproduction of real rabbits.
I embrace their presence because if I pull out a vacuum to burn an apple’s worth of calories while corralling them, I’ll suddenly see all the other housework I’ve been avoiding.
While chasing a dust bunny into the boys’ bathroom, for example, I might discover hard water deposits on the faucet, toothpaste spray on the mirror and something sinister spreading from the base of the toilet.
I’d rather sit at my computer and write about those things than clean them. But even at my desk, spring cleaning beckons like a truant friend asking me to play productive hooky.
When I succumb it’s easy for one little act of cleanliness to ruin a workday.
After leaving numerous voice mail messages and replying to some of the emails that apparently share the dust bunny breeding program, my gaze is drawn to a long-awaited sunbeam breaking through a winter of clouds.
Unfortunately, this spotlights the smudges on my office window and several dead bugs on the sill.
Looking away, I turn back to the computer. Its screen is also smudged and dusty. My observation antennae activated, I wipe a sleeve across it because I can’t tell if the smudge is a typo or something stuck. It’s something stuck.
After scraping it off, I realize my sleeve is now dirty, which reminds me of a mountain of unwashed clothes in the next room. I decide to start a load of laundry before any aromas waft into my office. That would be distracting and it will only take a moment.
By the time I’ve finished sorting and folding, my stomach announces it’s time for lunch. This takes me to the kitchen, where I see everything as if for the first time.
Crumbs sprinkle the kitchen floor like a garish garnish. Tomato sauce stains the microwave like a child’s splatter paint project. An unidentifiable spill of congealed goo sprawls on the refrigerator shelf like a teenage boy on a couch.
This is why I sometimes work in the coffee shop, where window smudges, dirty floors and crumbs are regularly wiped away in every season.