“A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” was the first Hemingway story that I ever read. This was in high school (ninth grade perhaps?) and it left sufficient impression to cause me to read virtually everything else that Hemingway had ever written.
This is not a post about Hemingway, my favorite author though he may be. I’ve written enough about him elsewhere.
No, this is a post about laundromats and about clean, well-lighted places.
In particular, it’s easy to lose sight of the general lack of them in your life, particularly when their quantity has dwindled to, say, zero.
— § —
By this time of year, I have usually begun (often so far ahead of time as to be embarrassing) an “end of year thoughts” post. It sits unpublished in WordPress starting maybe in October, or maybe in November, and then evolves.
I edit it as thoughts occur to me, as events play out. Sometime in late December, late one night, I finally sit down and really crank on it in anticipation of publication. These posts mean absolutely nothing to anyone, of course, except for me. They mean a great deal to me, which is why I spend time thinking about and revising them.
Except this year. This year, it’s December 22nd and I haven’t even begun. This isn’t merely atypical for me, this is unheard of.
— § —
2017 has been a bear of a year. An absolute bear. Layne Staley once famously sang the line “Somethin’s gotta turn out right…”
Having had faith that the reception this line met was well-placed, I’ve continued to imagine that the worm would turn throughout the year. Naturally, because I acted out of character and tried to maintain a little faith, it didn’t.
And I’ll be honest, things continue to look bleak. There are rocky shores ahead, and I don’t know precisely what my strategy is. Okay, let’s be fair and say that I haven’t one.
— § —
“Chop wood and carry water.”
Once you get past “somethin’s gotta turn out right,” that’s when you get into “chop wood and carry water” territory. When the idea that if you can do nothing else, you can continue to do the basics, come hell or high water, develops a new kind of resonance.
It’s when you are reduced to chopping wood and carrying water that you finally appreciate, for the first time in your life, clean, well-lighted places and the expression of disciplined, pure-hearted toil that is their existence.
— § —
I’m sitting in a laundromat with the kids right now because there was too much laundry to do at home, and there are very large machines here that enable one to do very large amounts of laundry very quickly.
© Aron Hsiao / 2016
Filling in the backstory on this is left as an exercise to the reader.
The kids are doing their online reading homework, assigned by the school. They are sitting north and west of me.
I am sitting at an iPad, where I intended to sit down and actually begin a year-end post. But I am still unprepared to confront this year in its entirety. Part of this is because while a lot of undesired things began in 2017, they will not finish until 2018.
Meaning that a catalog of everything that happened this year won’t be so much as a “bad things that happened” post as it will a “unavoidable bad things to look foward to” post.
And who wants to write something like that?
— § —
It is increasingly necessary that I recover some optimism. Mojo, if you will.
Even if I’m not writing a year-end post just now, I am at the very least sitting in a clean, well-lighted place where someone else has chopped wood and carried water ahead of me.
If I am to return to the frame of mind in which I allow myself to expect, once again, that somethin’s gotta turn out right, time spent in places like this, sitting quietly at a keyboard, is a necessary beginning.