The Zen of Ironing

I rather like ironing my partner’s shirts.  Two or three garments into the laundry basket and I’m in the zone, meditating on how maybe, just maybe RLB derives some small pleasure when he opens his closet and finds a crisply ironed favorite waiting on the hanger.  I flatter myself that the discovery might be something akin to the small satisfaction of his finding a coin, all shiny and new, in the street.

I remember feeling much the same decades ago when I ironed my son’s favorite surfer shorts—a gaudy knee-length red-and-orange assault to the senses that he could barely be persuaded to doff long enough for a good washing.  Ditto my daughter’s favorite sundress, circa second or third grade.  Pink and white stripes, it was, with a fractious little flounce at the hemline boasting more wrinkles than Methuselah.

I’ve been thinking about the Zen-like effect of ironing for the last several days (the laundry was formidable this week), the notion all mixed up in my mind with that Elizabeth Warren video that went viral on YouTube last month.  You know the one where she says “There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own.”  Yes, I know, I know—linking the two ideas, ironing and wealth, is a stretch.  I wonder if I can do it?

One thing’s for sure, neither of us—my partner nor myself—is rolling in dough, so the monetary angle, that was, I think, Ms. Warren’s point, is not key to the connection I’m seeking here.  It’s not like I’m ironing dollars into RLB’s shirt pockets.  But we all know that wealth takes many forms, and there are many ways to accumulate it—and, I think, to pay it forward.  Ms. Warren’s video provides a clue in this regard: infrastructure, she cites, is one of the ways we all contribute to the wealth of the successful businessperson.  Roads, bridges, public transportation, paid for collectively, play a part in producing that wealth.  Infrastructure matters.  So, I like to think, does a wrinkle-free shirt, a freshly-pressed pair of slacks, neatly folded-and-stacked underwear, or if I can be permitted to mix my metaphors (and beneficiaries), each one of RLB’s expertly prepared home-cooked meals, his mixed to perfection gin-and-tonics after a tiring day.  All these are collective contributions to a distinctly domestic and intimately shared infrastructure—the kind of infrastructure that underpins wealth that can’t be measured in terms of dollars and cents.  The kind of capital that can weather even the worst Wall Street reversals.

Several years ago, when work-related duties had temporarily made us a bi-coastal couple, I wrote a rather lengthy story that attempted to capture something of the feeling I’m going for in this post.  The story is called “What He Was Waiting For.”  Here are a few lines:

Strange, even a little scary, that the evidence of a human presence can become so important.  How else to explain the small, indispensable comfort derived in folding the laundry, in cleaning away the bathtub ring?

Comfort.  Yes.  That comes closer to the Zen, to the ‘securities and reserves’ I’m thinking of here.  A feeling like when I discover RLB’s favorite turquoise-and-white striped shirt in the laundry basket—the one he sported in Greece twenty years ago, the one he wore the first time we visited the Japanese Tea Garden in Golden Gate Park.  The one with cotton so thin and well-worn that I must always remember to turn down the temperature on the steam iron against the possibility of a disastrous scorch.  Silly, I know, but every time I iron that shirt, it’s like slipping a few pennies into my partner’s piggy bank.

If only washing a sink-full of greasy dishes inspired a similar sense of peace and prosperity.

About jaurquhart

Jack Andrew Urquhart was born in the American South. Following undergraduate work at the University of Florida, Gainesville, he taught in Florida's public schools. He earned a Master of Arts degree in English, Creative Writing, from the University of Colorado at Boulder, where he was the winner of the Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Award for Fiction (1991). His work has appeared online at Clapboard House Literary Journal, Crazyhorse Literary Journal, and Standards: The International Journal of Multicultural Studies. He is the author of So They Say, a collection of self-contained, inter-connected stories and the short story, They Say You Can Stop Yourself Breathing. Formerly a writing instructor at the University of Colorado’s Writing Program, Mr. Urquhart was, until 2010, a senior analyst for the Judicial Branch of California. He resides in Washington State.
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2 Responses to The Zen of Ironing

  1. peterhobbs1 says:

    I really like the idea that wealth is not necessarily monetary. I think if people were to stop and list the things they should be thankful for they would find that they are wealthy beyond their imaginations. A perfectly written post Jack that captured the essence of what you were trying to say beautifully.

  2. Pingback: Laughter into My Old Age | Inside Out Cafe

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