Category Archives: Satire

Zen and the Art of Housekeeping

A friend was cleaning out (cheers for irony) her library and had a whole big pile of books she was giving away. I can rarely resist free books so I picked out a pile including this one.

Zen and the Art of Housekeeping by Lauren Brownell

Zen and the Art of Housekeeping by Lauren Brownell

It’s a wicked good book. I admit I sort of rolled my eyes at the whole zen/enlightenment/writing haiku/koan concepts. I mean come on, haikus?! Those are WAY too easy to write.

Writing a haiku

About vacuuming your home

Is a bit absurd

BUT WAIT! Spy Garden loves all things absurd. And haikus aren’t so bad. Seventeen carefully chosen syllables are better than some free form bs poem with 117 words. Plus, seventeen is the Spy’s favorite number. Plus, I love the Japanese aesthetic (we do have our very own zen garden after all). I don’t mean to discount the zen stuff, I just prefer to interpret it as it relates to Christian practice. Indeed, I found many of the concepts of Zen to be strikingly similar to the Christian concepts I try to practice. For example, when I think of “meditation” I think of it as exemplifying the biblical concept of “don’t worry/be anxious about your life” and just focus on the immediate present and the blessings surrounding you at any particular moment.

As for the detailed descriptions of the physical acts of cleaning, at first I was thinking, “COME ON! Why is this lady giving directions on how to vacuum?” Then I realized that I loved Martha Stewart and one of the things about her is that she is pretty left-brain overcore and always describes everything step by step and while it usually seems superfluous to me, I truly appreciate that this is how the left-brainers function.

To illustrate, one day I was reading Martha’s blog: the post was about her pet doves, how she cleaned the cage, fed them, and cared from them. My husband looked over my shoulder:

Smoochie, “What are those?”

Me, “Those are Martha’s pair of white doves. They live in the servery off her kitchen.”

Smoochie: (eyerolling)

Me, “Don’t get it twisted. Martha Stewart is (there may have been a profane word here-ing) awesome.”

He laughed and I explained that she takes meticulous care of her home, her animals, her plants. How could there possibly be anything wrong with that? He concurred that ok, yes, she is awesome.

So am I jealous of Martha and her extremely clean doves (and grout)? No way, because I gather that Martha is 79% left brain, while I am 79% right brain. We may have very different methods but both share an appreciation for our home. I LIKE the fact that when I create I do so spontaneously, unsystematically and untidily. Ok, “untidily” would be a euphemism, let’s call it a Creative Tornado. I make up recipes without following any recipes or directions. I dug a giant garden without measuring one square foot of it. I get ideas and just run with them and don’t bother to try and follow someone else’s definition of the “proper” way to do it. But when it comes to cleaning, there is sort of a proper way to do it. Most acts of cleaning are fairly straightforward and usually brainless, therefore the perfect time to practice being “in the present”.

I enjoy cleaning up the aftermath of the creative tornado. I value aesthetics. I like the look of a clean surface, a neat closet and white door frame wiped free of tiny fingerprints. Plus, there’s the bonus of finding the masterpieces that were created in said creative tornado.

Exhibit A (watercolor by Baby)

Exhibit A (watercolor by Baby)

“As keepers of the home, we have an incredible opportunity to make an enormous impact on the quality of the lives we live and the lived of those we love.”  (from the Intro of the book)

If chores and housework must be done, and done over and over again, shouldn’t these jobs be moments we enjoy, rather than hastily finished so we can get on to something better (i.e. writing an essay about cleaning hAHAHa)? If not “enjoyed” at least moments to practice being in the moment and quieting your thoughts and sharpening your senses: Feeling the hot laundry as you fold, noticing the shiny clean sink and the sparkling dish sponge:

BEST DISH SPONGE EVER

BEST DISH SPONGE EVER

Seriously.

Seriously.

And that brings us to the dishes. One thing I learned in the book is that some great writers thought of ideas while doing dishes. HEY! I DO THAT ALL THE TIME! We don’t have a dishwasher, I cook A LOT, ergo, I do a lot of dishes. Hating to do dishes, would be hating a significant part of my life and that wouldn’t make much sense at all. Why deign to do something (laundry, dishes, whatever) that you must do (and do often) instead of finding meaning, purpose and (ideally) a bit of joy in these acts? The book talks a lot about dishes, dusting and other aspects of cleaning as opportunities to be in the moment but also to use the mindless chores as time for some double duty productivity (i.e. thinking of sentences for essays about housekeeping while you do the dishes haha).

Anyway, it’s a great little book, a perfect read for the new year. I read pretty fast but it has taken me weeks to read the thing, because every time I pick it up I read a few pages, then get inspired to clean out the junk drawer, read a few pages, organize my closet, etc. etc. (technically, I haven’t even finished the book yet haha). It’s winter, I won’t be starting the seeds for another month, so it is a perfect time to do (and share) a little indoor “gardening”. And hope my readers will enjoy a peek indoors (as the actual garden is mostly just melting snow and mud at the moment).

Baby’s Room

Baby’s Room

A closer look.

A closer look.

Hmmm “Nobody Does it Better.” So untrue, yet so true. I spy a koan?

The Spy’s Room

The Spy’s Room

A closer look.

A closer look.

Next I will tackle the topic of cleaning and organizing with your kids. But, first I need to go shampoo the rugs.

98. Art and Absurdity

If an artist is painting, drawing or sculpting whilst calculating the value of the work based largely on its meaning (hidden or overt), than that artist does not understand art the way I do. In visual art, shouldn’t the “visual” come first?

Would I display it in my home? At my place of employment?

Anyone with or without an art history background can ask those questions of any piece of art. And everyone is going to have a different opinion. And they are all “right”. The trick to understanding art is in developing your opinions on what you think is attractive. Don’t be afraid to say, “Those color combinations are searing my retinas.” or “That is too simple for my taste, I prefer more details.”

It seems a lot of people are turned off by “art” because it is so often presented in a long-winded and serious manner. Why aren’t witty one liners, bad puns and silly punchlines a part of the art world? Why so serious?

P.J. O’Rourke did a “Riding the Subway in Three Acts” and it was genius: a perfect satire of performance art. Robert Smithson did something very similar but it was dead serious.  I like Robert Smithson and consider him a major influence in the earthwork art of Spy Garden. But I like satire more. And there’s a joke in there somewhere that Spy Garden is just a little, home vegetable garden and not a significant enough work of art to have “influences”.

Claes Oldenburg wrote,

Lately I have begun to understand action painting, that old thing, in a new, vital, and peculiar sense—as corny as the scratches on a NY wall and by parodying its corn I have (miracle) come back to its authenticity! I feel as if Pollock is sitting on my shoulder, or rather crouching in my pants.

Well, I do love corn. But seriously? I’m not quite sure what he is talking about. I love works by Claes Oldenburg and have posted some pictures of them on Spy Garden before (9. Public Sculpture). Can’t I just enjoy it because I like the look of it? It’s silly, it’s simple. Isn’t that good enough?

Claes Oldenburg could have written:

I thought it would be really enjoyable to coordinate the construction of giant ordinary objects. They mean nothing so don’t bother writing hundreds of books and articles about them. Let the art history students learn about something more complex. Like Duchamp’s bicycle wheel. I’m just trying to make a bunch of money without having to work 9-5 at a boring office and I’d like to have plenty of time to sit around relaxing and designing more XXXL tubes of lipstick and hamburgers and such. Because I just find that sort of thing enjoyable.

Such an admission I would really appreciate. Can’t an artist just make something because they feel like it? Does there always have to be a deeper meaning? But maybe he’s not so silly or simple. Maybe I’m just not serious enough. Once in awhile I get absurdly poetic about gardening  and say things like,

 “I could pass through all these ruins all the time…Dirt has depth and beauty. I love soot and scorching.” (another Claes Oldenberg quote)

Well, I do love dirt. And I do love our fire pit which has both soot and scorching. Sometimes the fire pit produces beautiful art all on its own! But I just need a good punch line after a poetic ramble or else it’s just pure cheese (or corn).

I received a bachelor of arts in English and Art History from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut. Which basically means I am qualified to blather on, in English, about art. I graduated in 2005 and I’m still scratching my head wondering why on earth art is usually taken so seriously. I can happily blather on about why I like a piece of art or just simply call attention to art that I find interesting: but not without being silly. Questioning an artist’s motives, questioning the cultural context in which it was created, speculating on symbols and hidden meanings…I just don’t always find any of that necessary in order to appreciate art. What is so wrong with this simple* approach?

*While writing this post I clicked on the Thesaurus in Microsoft Word on the word “simple” and one of the synonyms it gave it “artless” HAHhahahahaha HAHAHA

Heres a piece of the Spy’s art:

Collage/Drawing by the Spy, 2010

Collage/Drawing by the Spy, 2010

Reminds me of synthetic cubism.