May I Have THAT Problem, Please?

This weekend, The New York Times Sunday magazine published an interview with the MSNBC host Rachel Maddow.   I’m a settled and staid matron and mother of four, and it’s been years since I’ve had a girl-crush, but lately I’ve found that my heart leaps in delight when Rachel appears on my TV.  She’s smart and funny and relaxed and makes me feel better about the things that worry me without sugarcoating anything.  So when I read this interview I was thrilled to discover that Maddow’s favorite things to read are graphic novels.

HELLO!  My favorite things to read are graphic novels!  I just finished two volumes of Alan Moore’s The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and am halfway through his V for Vendetta.  My husband gave me like five graphic novels for my birthday last week and I’ve finished them all.  I was reading through this interview thinking that Rachel and I would have so much to talk about if only I could get to meet her.

And then, she lost me.

When asked what her favorite procrastination technique is, Maddow (can I call her Rachel, do you think?) said, and I quote, “Cleaning.”  She goes on to say that when she has a writing project due, she will clean “everything” around her.

It’s clear that there are some fundamental differences between this woman and me. 

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not criticizing her.  I’m simply wildly, passionately jealous of her “procrastination technique.”  Believe me, I would love to be the kind of person who goes, “Huh.  I don’t feel like settling down to writing yet.  Think I’ll clean out the kitchen drawers.”  My kitchen drawers need cleaning out.  My kitchen needs cleaning out.  My bedroom’s a disaster area.  My kids’ rooms are worse.   (Full disclosure: I have cleaning help one day a week.  On Friday afternoons, the house isn’t so bad.  Any other time of the week, don’t drop by unannounced–or be prepared to stay in the living room the entire time, if you do.)

If my house could talk, it would say, “Get your butt off that chair, move away from the computer, and pay attention to ME.”  The big yellow dog manages to convey that message by dropping balls at my feet until I’m ready to scream, and it works: I’ll take him out.  The cat gets my attention by crawling right on top of the keyboard and pushing his forehead against mine.  But the stupid silent house just quietly deteriorates around me.

So what is my “procrastination technique”?  Let’s see.  I check my e-mail.  I check it again.  I see if anything new has been posted on  I check to see if Obama’s gone up in the polls. Then I check  to see if they have better results.  I i.m. with my sister Nell who’s also a writer and therefore looking for someone to help her procrastinate too.  I check my e-mail again, only this time on my other account (I have two, partially I think so I can waste more time).  While on that account, I check Facebook.   I check to see if any cool new designer has designed a cool new line for them and, if so, spend an hour deciding what I would order if I were to place an order and then I don’t order it–yet–because I don’t want to spend money.  I check my e-mail again.  I go to and try to decide whether two hundred dollars for a pair of shoes is a good deal if they were originally five hundred dollars.  (Let me know if you have the answer to that one–I’m still unsure.)  I remember something I forgot to tell my sister and i.m. her again.  I send an e-mail to my agent asking her if she got my last e-mail.  I check the Amazon status of my books and wonder if I should be worried about them.  I worry about them.  I check my e-mail again.

And so on, ad infinitum.  Sometimes I even get some writing done in between all this other stuff.  Sometimes I don’t.

It’s not like I never get up from my desk.  Actually, sometimes I work standing up at a tall cabinet, just to shake things up and to try to convince myself that I’m keeping my my ass from spreading out to the size of Lake Superior.  (I’m deluding myself: it is.)  More importantly, I do take lots of strolls . . . into the kitchen where I pour myself yet another cup of coffee and eat another frozen cookie.  (I should include my cookie recipe someday: it’s fantastic, because I make them with tons of oatmeal, oat bran, flaxseed and dried fruit so they’re “healthful,” and then throw in chocolate chips so I want to eat them.  Then I freeze them because that makes them chewy and I eat them pretty much all day long.)

So it’s not like I’m STUCK at my desk.  I have places to go: the refrigerator, the coffee maker, the backyard to throw balls for the dog, the bathroom . . . 

But as I make my way through the house, I’m closing my eyes to the mess all around me.  At some point every day,  I do a cursory job of cleaning the kitchen: I toss the clean dishes in the cabinet, put the dirty ones in the dishwasher (man, that thing fills up fast!) and wipe off the table.  And I throw a load or two of laundry in when the piles get too big.   Other than that, it’s a long slow slide until my cleaning lady valiantly shows up for another battle with the mess on Friday morning. 

At a book event once, someone said, “You have four kids–how do you find the time to write books?” and I said, “I don’t clean my house.”  It wasn’t a very sexy answer as answers go and I could tell that it wasn’t exactly inspiring anyone there to follow my lead and become book authors with messy houses.  But the truth is, if I couldn’t turn a blind eye to the mess, I’d never get ANY writing done because with a family of 6 (7 this year with my husband’s niece), the house is simply always going to have some element of chaos in it. I could clean all day every day and the kids would come home and toss their backpacks, homework, lunches, uniforms, art projects, etc. etc. down and then I’d make and serve dinner and I’d be right back where I started with a messy house and a dirty kitchen.  Where’s the profit in spending your day righting what will be wronged again so soon?

So cleaning as a deliberate and productive act–well, I just have no room for that in my life.  Cleaning as procrastination, though, would be a welcome personality trait.  It’s just–i don’t seem to go there. 

Sorry, Rachel.  I still love you.  In fact, feel free to come over and work at my house any time.  I’ll supply the cookies and coffee.  And if you need to take a break from all that writing, the cleaning supplies are in the laundry room . . .


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