The only part of my house that is clean right now is the kitchen sink. Hair-and-lint balls are piling up in the corners and behind doors, bike tire trails from the front door to the kitchen crisscross wet-leaf trails from the back door, and the microscopic life forms of the bathroom are reaching visible colony sizes. But the stainless steel kitchen sink, the place where all the greens get double washed, is spotless, shiny even, the well-maintained hub of the household.
is no surprise given that, lately, I feel like I live at that sink,
constantly standing over it as I cut and tear leaves from their stems,
bathe greens in a sink full of water, and move greens from the water to
the strainer then back to a fresh bath of water then finally to the
spinner for drying. Or I'm washing the bulky dishes, like salad-mixing
bowls and food processor parts, that inevitably follow salad making or
greens cooking. Basically, in these cloudy days of early spring, I'm
feeling like a sink wife, a woman whose sink-related chores are
never-ending and largely unseen, without which the steady gallop of
greens consumption, so necessary if we're going to make this leap from
fall to spring garden in about a month, would come to a standstill.
Forward progress is at stake here.
It amazes me how
tedious forward progress, lived at the daily level, really is. For
instance, I want to grow some of my own produce in my own yard. Which
is a lovely goal, and one that is very clear in its idea phase – I want to grow greens! – and at fruition – This spinach salad is so delicious!
Even most of the obvious in-between steps, like selecting the seeds,
planting the seeds, thinning the seedlings, and weeding the garden, are
things that I look forward to doing, side effects from the original
produce-growing goal that really are part of the reason that I want to
be growing greens in the first place, because I like spending time in
the garden. But then the repetitive tasks sneak in, like processing the
Greens – lettuces, spinach, chard, beet
greens, Asian greens, mustard, kale, etc – are dirty. Not dirty in a
gross or bad way, but literally dirty: coated in garden soil, which is
splashed on their leaves every time it rains, carrying pieces of mulch,
and host to caterpillars, beetles, and aphids. And, while baby greens are edible
as whole leaves, mature greens have large leaves that need to be torn
or cut into smaller pieces and from which the woody, central veins need
to be removed. This is the work of the sink wife, taking a bucketful of
muddy, nearing-shrub-size plants and transforming them into a bowlful
of greens that are ready to be cooked or coated in salad dressing. Cut,
toss stem in compost, tear, toss greens in sink. Repeat about 137
times. Slosh greens in water to loosen dirt, transfer to strainer,
drain and clean the sink, and repeat. Repeat. To repeat is the
tedious part of the growing-produce goal, and it is in the midst of the
repeat, as I stare out the kitchen window and shift my weight from one
leg to the other, that the emotions of the sink wife arise. The
feelings of being trapped in a never-ending process, the sense of being
unappreciated for all this effort, and the fear that the work that I am
doing is not valuable.
Valuable to whom? This is a
problem that I have, a problem common to many women and a few caretaker men, having
been raised by mothers who told us that we could do anything that we
wanted while showing us how to silently anticipate the needs of
everybody around us. As their mothers did before them. I want my work,
my time, to be valuable to somebody else, and I have trouble spending my
time in ways that are simply valuable to me. Still, I don't think that the fears of the sink wife are just about value. I think they run deeper.
To the issue that has been all consuming for me lately: time. How I spend my time. The sink
wife is the part of me that fears that I am wasting my time standing
over the sink, stripping cilantro leaves from their stems to make pesto,
or tearing apart lettuce and spinach leaves to make a salad mix, or
cutting thick veins from huge mustard leaves to cook into a curry. The
sink wife is the part of me that fears that the whole process, the whole growing-greens project that I have chosen to do, is a waste of time. That I have made
the wrong choice. That I am doing the wrong thing.
The sink wife arises in the midst of the tedious, repetitive
work because that is where I am least distracted by doing. When I'm in the garden, I'm
enjoying being outside too much to question it, and by the time that I
am cooking, I'm either busy chopping onions or I'm close enough to the finish that I can see, or smell, the upcoming meal. But in the midst of
the slow, repetitive detail work, the fears beneath, that I am not doing it
right, that I am making the wrong choices, they come bubbling
up through the sink full of leaves to greet the silence. I have time to
think and wonder and question, so here come the questions: Am I doing the right thing? Am I doing it
right, this life?
A better question to ask
might be, How am I doing it? Am I enjoying this quiet
time in front of the sink, surrounded by the abundance of greens that I have grown, separating leaves from stems into a spotless sink
while listening to Maná and daydreaming, or am I worrying about whether I
am doing the right thing?