Days after

1 Sep

The smell of Bold 2-in-1 is still on my clothes. Around the cuffs of one cardigan is the aroma of the Nivea Intensive Moisturising cream I applied to the eczema on my hands. Bold 2-in-1 and Nivea harmonise well. Catching these domestic fragrances every now and then, the feeling of being in those spaces I cleaned for a month surfaces and lingers as I contemplate how Cinderella Residency is consigned to the past.

It is a different story for the family: everything is fresh, bright, sparkling, somehow new. I moved away from and they moved forwards into their spaces, imprinting their identities again where I erased them to make the house clean. Things moved, footprints and scuff marks wiped away, long-standing smells kept at bay. Hairs and dead skin cells flushed down the plughole, sucked up by the vacuum cleaner, or rather displaced only to resettle in some other corner. I attempted to wage war with dead matter but really, as I’ve noted before, the dust always only resettles.

No longer in the house, I scan my memory of the spaces to remember what I forgot to clean. The horror of omission is like a loose thread casting its way through my sleeping and waking life, stunning me into recognition: ‘NO! How did I forget that? They will see it and think how crap I am!’  The guilt of the lowly worker. The guilt of those for whom caring and nurturing are paramount. The guilt of the misplaced maternal? (Throughout the Residency I struggled to conceive of caring and nurturing as anything but maternal, as constructed through or borne by some feminine principle. Perhaps this articulates what it means to be gender-queer, shifting between normative gender roles while existing within a gendered body. I tried and tried to shake off gendered notions of domestic labour, but my thoughts revolved around images and remembered sounds of the family’s mother. This was an odd thought process, for I know the family’s father is not concerned to occupy gendered roles. It certainly isn’t an accusation against him. For now I must park this and explore it later. Before I do I should state that while to an extent they operate under postwar working class gender norms, my parents do in fact practice late-twentieth century progressive attitudes to the division of labour. That said, though my father cleans and cooks, my mother has never fixed the vacuum cleaner or painted and decorated the house. In other words, I have not necessarily inherited gendered or even class-based conceptions of labour.)

The family has been complimentary towards my efforts. Indications that my labour has prompted considerations of their own about what cleaning does and means have also been registered. I will report on the Ultimate Domestic Labour Salon after I have visited the family in their spruced-up nest, which should be this week or the following. Expect more writing on this blog and possibly in other forms as the experience of Cinderella Residency percolates over the next few weeks and I myself readjust to returning to my own nest.

At this moment in time I imagine the family are tackling their month-long holiday laundry, shopping for food, playing on the X-box (which didn’t tempt me at all), rearranging my rearrangements, looking for stuff I moved, or perhaps even fleeing the house to enjoy this beautifully sunny day – the last, really, of the summer.

Not even a shining bright, clean house can detain those who really do know that there is a life to be lived on the sunnier side of domestic labour…

Yours obligingly, Dr Per Silovsky.

 

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Tomorrow the Family Returns!

29 Aug

The big picture is done and dusted. Pardon the pun.

Tomorrow morning before I leave I want to mop the floors for the final time and attend to the tiny details like making sure light switches and plugs are clean.

You can probably guess that the last few days have made for back-breaking work. Make that five days. And as I write, my back is actually aching and eczema is forming on my hands – the kind you get from coming into contact with too much water in a short period time.

I’ve been beset with anxiety over whether the family will appreciate my work or even think it is what they wanted when they put out the call for Cinderella Residency. These anxieties extend to the documentation aspect of the Residency, which has fallen somewhat by the wayside because of cleaning at full velocity for days on end. Somehow I have managed it, though.

The past week has injected the high levels of coercion and constraint that those who clean for a living or those engaged in relentless domestic labour will find familiar. My anxieties are something of an index of these situations. Because there is nothing more exacting and unforgiving in its precision than the act of cleaning. When personal pride of work kicks in I have even contemplated the kind of thoughts that Mama Silovsky will nod her head at in recognition: namely, the will to do more, even more, offering to clean after hours or in my case after the Residency to play catch-up with what’s been done and what could have been and what should have been done. Not that I am suggesting Mama Silovsky ever had cause or reason to think in this particular way about offering extra labour… No, it’s about my own approach to work, and I include other types of work in this – the work that I am meant to do for a living if only someone will give me a chance. So it’s not so much that personal pride in work is kicking in, as if I am going beyond what I have requested to do; it’s much more to do with my attitude towards work after a bout of it has been completed. A strange one, this: guilt, guilt over having done work but going with the sense that I have not really done it enough, regardless of any objective assessment that may be able to confirm I have completed the task successfully and to a high standard.

I eagerly await the family’s opinion about my work. I am also slightly worried about their response and concealed or articulated disappointment.

I should have told you about the visitation of the Fairy Godmother: she helped with the cleaning. A little bit. She also brought nice food and wine. No man to call my own, though…

Home strait!

27 Aug

Putting a new slant on the phrase home strait: that’s me, Dr Per Silovsky, aka Cinderella/Cinderfella, cleaning frantically to complete the Residency within three days when the FAMILY RETURNS!

SH*T!

Where did the time go?!

Judging by the things I’ve go to do, I think was complacent I could do it at my own pace within a MONTH!

A MONTH! Where did the time go?!

You see, it’s not so much that I’ve kicked back far too much and been complacent about my ability to complete the cleaning within schedule; it’s that a day flies by and tackling one major task after another is just not always possible. REALLY. You get knackered – I get knackered QUICKLY. Factor in having lunch, documenting the process, taking the odd phone call, answering emails like you do in the non-Cinderella World, and what you’ve got is LIFE.

I don’t think I’ve been lazy. As I’ve said in previous posts and what I’m now taking to be the frame for understanding this home strait, you can’t clean in a total way before it’s time without having to do it all over again to ensure it’s sparkling for the family.

This is what I call an excuse. 

But I feel there’s so much to do (pride over work kicking in; working to pride takes time) and frankly, I’ve not got time for this writing malarkey ————

WHOOOOOOOOOSH!!!

Cinderella Bulletin #8

24 Aug

The family returns in less than a week. Once in the flow of it, a week can feel like a long time. When you’re doing what I’m doing, it’s a different matter. So I’ve come round to thinking the time is over for cruising through the house doing this and that at whim. A more focused plan is in order. Either that or I will not be in the position of enjoying at least two days of breathing deeply and surveying my masterpiece of domesticity.

I hate writing plans because in the time you’ve thought about it and written it, at least two items could have been completed. Similarly, despite its centrality to the premise of Cinderella Residency, the time taken to document my domestic labour could have been deployed to cleaning more and sooner. In a way the documentation process has been an impediment to cleaning. But instead, for a writer like myself, the cleaning has irritated precisely because it’s been an impediment to writing. All in all I’ve kinda got the point and not simultaneously. I’m guessing the mutually conflicting irritation of the labour of writing and the labour of domesticity will please the Institute insofar as it has produced the very affects and moods that correspond with the coercion and constraint domestic labour poses to their daily lives as parents and lecturers.

Mama Silovsky suggests that I should now concentrate on a room at a time and shut the door. Work that way and downwards. I think I’m taking her advice. Doing the opposite has been a steep and sometimes thankless learning curve: it’s impossible to clean a house without a regime executed regularly or once in a while as a sharp blast. Time has been on my side – I could have and indeed have done it any way I like. Pile on other pressures and you’re at the end of the rudest awakening possible. This might explain why a friend describes having found her inner squalid slut. This squalid slut chose having a life over becoming domestic labour’s bitch. ‘I could maintain a show house and indeed did do in the past.’ That time is over for my friend, and thinking this way has granted her some level of autonomy in the context of a demanding parental scenario.

Naturally our attitudes to cleaning are deeply personal and embedded in varying factors such as class and degrees of mental or physical health. But nevertheless it’s worth reiterating that cleaning is very much tied up in individual temperament. Perhaps the squalid slut approach to domestic labour is about separating work that is truly meaningful (writing, creating art, singing, dancing, reading, making furniture) from that which is functionally meaningful like domestic labour and sundry cleaning and tidying activities. And inevitably what is meaningful is decided by our temperament as living and breathing humans craving autonomy, independence, freedom and the like.

Domestic Labour Salon #2

22 Aug

S is ashamed and embarrassed. The dirt in her flat is out of control. Friends are regularly refused as guests. S admitted the need to sort it out but is quickly overwhelmed by the thought of it.

S is busy. Free-time is not at a premium. S disclosed that when pre-menstrual, there is little difficulty getting into cleaning. It can be calming. It’s nice to get absorbed by it. The mind goes off at a tangent. While it isn’t necessarily oppressive, it pisses her off that cleaning is such a constant thing.

We talked about the condition S’s flat is in. I asked if S’s attitude towards cleaning would change if the flat was refurbished.

That it’s in such a mess has resulted in a partial loss of will.

S is naturally not a minimalist – I’m clutter-friendly! Dirt and clutter are wholly different things. S has even considered asking friends for help, in the spirit of painting parties. But she is worried about their standards of cleanliness! No offense, but: lipsticks on glasses, not rinsing soap off dishes? All the usual things.

It’s hard to know what will kickstart S’s cleaning momentum.

*

There were three cleaning jobs: domestic labour in houses, a jazz bar, and an insurance office.

Inevitably,  given her own story, Cinderella referred to the invisibility of cleaners. In The Night Cleaner, the French investigative journalist Florence Aubenas talks about one night cleaner’s experience of cleaning while two office workers were having sex on a desk. The presence of the cleaner did not perturb them. It’s as if night cleaners lack human identity or judgement: there’s no need to feel judged by them because at the end of the day they are some sub-species on whom judgement must be called before they call it on others.

S said cleaners are invisible until they break the rules. Until they assert autonomy, in other words…

In the past S had to adopt a false name to earn money while she worked towards going to university after an access course. S worked under a fake national insurance and asked a friend to allow wages to be paid into her account.

In the insurance office cleaners were split into teams of two per floor. You built a rapport with your co-worker. On one occasion the cleaning must have hacked them off and so both went for a smoke in the toilet. It was bad timing: they were found out by an office worker. But oddly she didn’t tell on them. That it was an issue at all tells us something about the surveillance under which low-paid, precarious workers are put. It was an odd situation but in a way explicable: S’s co-worker and the office worker were black. The co-worker mentioned it must have been race solidarity. It was the 1990s and equality laws were barely in place; widespread discrimination from the Thatcher years (or the eighties, however you might like to see it) hung over British culture. Not that it’s disappeared today. It was quite possible, therefore, that the office worker felt it incumbent on her to protect those most intimately connected with her own heritage.

The bar job was freer. S worked behind the bar and cleaned it. It was a jazz club open to other kinds of music and so was quite laid-back. Perhaps most importantly for one straining under the pressure to educate herself whilst living on benefits, it was cash-in-hand. There were lock-ins until the small hours. It’s probably now demolished.

Domestic labour brought its own issues, much more personal ones worrying about whether her work was good enough and ensuring everything was done in the allotted time. S cleaned for an elderly person once a week. Support work for the elderly naturally led on to to doing extra work, nearly always cleaning. The low-paid worker will always work more; their employers are unlikely to increase wages.

Domestic labour for others is intimate. You gain access to them in a different way, S thought.

But here’s a thought: what are the boundaries between being a cleaner and a servant?

*

S worries what other people think about her flat and its state of cleanliness, particularly the smell of damp.

We discussed the culture of ‘decommissioned couches’: repositories of stuff more than seating, you have to clean and tidy them before you can offer your guest somewhere to sit. S likes sitting on the floor.

What to do about her flat? S feels it might be necessary to take time out to put things totally straight. Do I want to spend my holiday cleaning?! 

Small attempts hardly make a dent…

[S visited the Domestic Labour Salon on Sunday 19 August at approximately 2pm. Lunch was made and we chatted about this and that until 8pm. Dr Per Silovsky wishes to thank his guest.]

Cinderella Bulletin #7, in which Cinderella swears a bit

22 Aug

I must have got out of the wrong side of bed. As they say.

Some daemon was hanging around my shoulders. On my way to the kitchen to make breakfast I snarled at all the spaces crying out for cleaning. But nothing – not even a malevolent spirit – will stop me from making coffee first thing in the morning.

I lingered around the internet after breakfast in order to avoid the inevitable. The daily question: what do I do now?

I granted myself the luxury of re-reading an article of mine that had been rejected and that I am working in the vain hope of recovering and getting published. This really sent me into a fug. I was swilling around all sorts of unconscious bullshit to do with my future, whether I will ever get tenure, how time is never on my/our side… Stuff like that.

After reading the article I decided to tackle the shelves in the front room. I knew I didn’t want to do this because I have left it until now, a week before the family returns, to make a dent in the task. I launched into it, wiping furiously and moving videos, DVDs, a few books, and the usual plastic objets that seem as if their other parts are elsewhere in this universe of a family home.

Where do these bloody things go? What am I meant to do with them? 

I parked them on the floor as I gulped mouthfuls of Mr Sheen classic polish and an awful lot of dust.

The more I worked that grubby yellow duster the more I was seriously f*^”ed off. (You can probably tell because I didn’t have the energy to engage with my neurosis around keeping cleaning utensils clean.) The indignation gushed. Why am I doing this rather than other stuff? Why am I documenting this? There isn’t time! There’s life to be lived beyond all this f*^”ing cleaning! 

Halfway through, just after the section where the telly is, I thought: f*^” this! The rest of my day veered between pointless langour and depressive apathy. But even though I slumped around I did in fact do work of another kind: I read interviews with Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak on the post-colonial critic for hours before I resolved to watch a film. This didn’t happen (the mood vanished): I got into a series of phone calls with a friend and ended up watching nothing in particular on telly until bedtime.

What’s happening to me?!

Dust to dust

20 Aug

We will become it and we spend our lives surrounded by it, moving through invisible screens of it, inhaling it, sneezing because of it, itching at the mere thought of it.

Today I tackled the bookshelves in the back room, or what is officially known as The Institute for the Art and Practice of Dissent at Home.

This I did methodically: I moved sections of books off the shelves without interrupting their order; I dusted the heaviest layer off the shelf with a dirty yellow duster; I then sprayed Mr Sheen classic polish on the surface and wiped thoroughly with a new yellow duster; the books were themselves dusted quickly and them replaced in their exact position before they had the opportunity to tumble out of my small hands, which would have broken their order and erased the familiarity to which their readers are accustomed.

I managed this task without any problem. I worked slowly. I listened to music: the final movement of Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony and the whole of his Sixth, and the riotous final movement from Respighi’s Roman Festivals. Music really goads domestic labour along, taking away the growing monotony of it and the dawning exhaustion.

As one of my interlocutors has noted in the Domestic Labour Salon, cleaning for others is intimate and grants access to them in a different way. We see those for whom we clean in ways they cannot actively legislate when engaged in conversation – live speech being the dominant interface between me and the other. I don’t think my friend was referring exclusively to encountering others through their dirt. Books provide a classic shortcut to another’s imagination, that region of the self – the really authentic, uncensored bit – phenomenologically closed off to others. Books grant access to what others think, feel, and desire, and the connection forged when interacting with another’s book collection is stronger as a result of the links we make ourselves through a given title.

Since I started Cinderella Residency I have browsed the books on the shelves I have just cleaned. But actually touching them, moving them, getting up, close and personal with their textures and colours has alerted me to the fact that what I considered browsing was in fact seeing an amorphous image of books and other media and objects. Only certain titles shouted out through typography and design, etc..

Dusting bookshelves is tantamount to re-archiving our accumulated knowledge. Cleaning almost anywhere in the home is also a form of re-archiving, encouraging re-acquaintance with the things around which we live our lives and which function for others as metonymic signs of our identity. Hence the process of dusting down my friends’ bookshelves was like walking around their professional lives as academics, interpreting as I did a given section of books as research sequencing: ‘Ah, yes,’ I thought, ‘these titles must have been used for this or that project or to satiate some intellectual curiosity.’

I could not have cleaned in any other way. I had to actively repress the desire to rearrange the books to reflect the expenditure of labour: these bookshelves must look different if my friends really are to believe I have comprehensively cleaned them! But as the above goes to show, it is wrong to rearrange books, it is somehow barbaric to break the continuity of shelving with the life of reading that ordering or placing represents.