Friday, April 18, 2014

On Cleaning

Among foibles and vices I've been fortunate to find pleasure in much that seems to plague modern man. I enjoy moderate, healthy, simple meals, eating being a burden so constant for man that I'm sure he would contract it out if he could. Ask anyone, though, and it's always the cleaning which attends the cooking that sends people to the convenience of restaurants. This seems to me quite absurd. Why is cleaning so bad?

The Need to Clean

Cleaning is in essence an extension of cura corporis, man's need to care for his body. It is as appropriate that a man care for his surroundings as it is he care for his person, and no less preposterous that he hire out someone to clean his home than, excepting infirmity, he contract out care of his arms and legs. The case of infirmity, though, we except precisely because it is undignified, and therefore there is dignity in caring for oneself. There is much to chastise in modern life' cosmetic primping and excessive fitness routines, but at least health and appearance are responsibilities we acknowledge. Life itself is the fulfillment of the responsibility (spondeo, to pledge) to care for oneself. Neglect is the default.

Yet why is there dignity in caring for oneself when one can certainly fulfill the responsibility without personally attending to them. It matters, though, that one sees to them himself because pledges cannot be contracted out. To pledge is not merely to agree, consent, or promise to fulfill, but to vow to be a sponsor, a commitment that cannot be offloaded to another. When someone contracts out this work we look at him in both pity and disdain, whether he's left to another the raising of his children or the comforting of his wife. With some less severity we look askance at the man who trusts his bodily health  tofitness gurus, vibrating belts, and diet pills, for he looks just as ignoble as the Roman, remembered by Seneca, who asked the slaves carrying him from his bath to his sedan chair, iam sedeo, "Am I sitting?"

Such is indeed decadence, a falling away from one's pledge.

It is likewise improper, though, to admit strangers into one's intimate world. Most of us recognize this applies to the body, although we can see the line shifted by the increasing popularity of fitness trainers, masseuses, and the like, to say nothing of sexual mores. As less and less is retained private, that is, deprived from the public sphere, and as we admit more people as intimates, it's not unsurprising that the personal element of personal property is lost. The home is more and more a mere place for stuff, and why should it be any more than that when the body of its owner nothing more either?

Beside obligations, though, hiring people to clean up after you, or clean you yourself, is an implicit admission of defeat, namely that you have failed at frugality. If you have more than you can yourself care for, you have too much. If you're so unhealthy you need help, you're sick. The Roman frugalitas and severitas go hand in hand, as do their opposites.

The Joy of Cleaning

There is another less admonitory justification for cleaning, though, and it's that cleaning is invigorating and exciting. Marcus Aurelius wrote, in Meditations 3.2, that the curious man takes a peculiar pleasure in everything, even in the humble and ungainly parts of nature. I never find this more so than when cleaning. How intricately all the parts of the car click and fold together, how gently curving the cool metal. Move the clutter from the desk and find the rich grains of the timber. Watch the spirits soak into the woody flesh, and even take delight in the little dings, remembrances of accidents and maybe a moment or two of frustration. Cleaning the bathroom might be the most inglorious of tasks, but watch a droplet of water bead on porcelain, the liquid clinging itself into a clear little dome over the smooth surface that holds the incipient sphere in suspension.

To make such observations is still to ignore the exciting paraphernalia of the cleaning trade. What a fun time in which to clean, with all measure of gadgets. What's not to like in vacuuming? These beastly machines, and not just shop vacuums but domestic ones too, have massive airflow, rotating brushes, HEPA filtration, extension hoses, and dirt sensors. Don't forget about all of the miracle solvents we have today, too. Ajax: not just for killing Trojans anymore.

Most of us can hone only a few special skills, but cleaning is an opportunity to sample the invigorating variety of nature and take pleasure its systems as we try to maintain our home among them. Nature might like to hide, but cleaning our little corner of this messy world makes an enlightening education of a necessity.

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