Why novelists are excellent at doing laundry

I derive great pleasure from hanging washing. In fact, I love everything about the laundry, from the piles of dirty clothes that ask only to be sorted into whites, colours and those things that are neither whites nor colours, to their turn in the Germanic front loader that’s been working diligently in our various houses for over 12 years – so powerful it shakes our current Queenslander on its stumps, as if we’re spinning towards Armageddon rather than the end of the cotton cycle –  to the hanging. Oh, the hanging, each person’s smalls on a line allocated to that person’s smalls and no others, each sock the right way around and next to its partner heel to peg, shorts with shorts, t-shirts with t-shirts and so on.

I love the washing best when I’m working on a novel, as I am at the moment. In the basket case that is my brain during a first draft, there is nothing quite like a basket of washing to hang. Here is the task with perfect symmetry. I hang the washing, and then I take it in, and when I do, the clothes are not just clean and sundrenched; they are orderly. With my system for hanging, I can easily put things in the basket in the way they will go into cupboards, each person’s things separated as they are on the line, their own little piles of smalls, t-shirts, shorts. When the people who live in my house offer to help, I am polite but firm. I don’t want their help. They don’t understand and even if I explained, I feel sure they wouldn’t get it right. No, the washing is my domain, the place I’m in control and the world is as it should be, laundry zen.

I don’t mean to give the impression I have a problem. I’m not one of those obsessive-compulsive, child-of-an-alcoholic, peg-matching kind of washing-hanging people. I’ve never matched pegs in my life. Well, I have thought about it but until recently, I had no idea how you’d manage it – you wouldn’t have enough peg colours to match the many colours of clothes. But then a barista from my local coffee shop, with whom I had a relatively long conversation about the satisfaction I derive from washing (being nailed to her espresso machine, she couldn't really escape), suggested the system of someone she once lived with – it’s a reason they don’t live together anymore as far as I could glean –  which I’m thinking of adopting. You don’t match the colours of the clothes. You match the type. So all socks have a blue peg, all smalls white, all t-shirts pink. I am still working on a system – I may have more types than peg colours – but I think the idea has merit.

I fear I’m overdoing it, failing to communicate the joy I find in laundry, and coming across like someone I’d rather not sit next to on a plane. But if only you could be with me on our verandah in the mid-morning as the winter sun streams over the whites, if you could see our basket full to bursting with carefully folded clothes in the late and slightly sad afternoon, if you could go from room to room with me and put those things neatly in their places, the lingering smell of mock-lemon detergent, the sunlight converted now into an inoculation of Vitamin D – that antidote for malaise – infusing the very fibres of our t-shirts, I know you’d agree. The washing is a haven of neatness in the face of the mess that is novel-writing, my little cards with scratchy scrawl all over them that say such appallingly unintelligible things as, “How do we live life in goodness?” or “Maybe Black shouldn’t die,” notebooks filled with odd diagrams and lists, ink stains and pencil sharpenings and those teeny rinds of erasing littering the desk.

Who cares? I think, as I stare out the window of my office to the abyss, to my soul, to the house next door that has aluminium foil over the windows, the only sound an occasional bird keening a lament for the day now gone. Oh, for a basket of clean washing right now instead of this blank page.