Monday 12 October 2015

Two Sharp Shakes

On Indigenous Peoples Day, being back on laundry feels mundane—but I am going to celebrate efforts to decolonize places by understanding the stories we use to shape those places, in the hopes that such efforts can help us shape them more equitably. 

Partly because of health problems, and arguably also because of class positioning and the effects that has on people's tolerance for disgust and their enthusiasm for demonstrating cleanliness, my mother taught me how to do laundry when I was quite young. And after twenty years living with my mate, one of the things I still often find myself trying to demonstrate persuasively is two sharp shakes of each laundered item as it goes from the basket onto the line or into the dryer. 

I have never liked ironing. (See also: learning to do laundry before being very good at controlling steaming metal appliances, or small ladder required to reach into washing machine, requiring climbing up and then down to the dryer for each piece of clothes...) Given my rather strong aversion, I've always thought of the two sharp shakes mainly as a way to prevent wrinkles. As I've tried to justify it in my demonstrations—and as I've learned more about the dynamics of laundering—I've realized it's not just about wrinkles (although the pre-emptive smoothing of the collar and placket and pockets does save me a lot of ironing). It also shakes off lint from the wash, pollen from the yard, and the various bits of leaf and insects that may be resting on the clothes. 

The pollen pieces (along with molds) aren't something I'd ever thought of before quite recently—and hence the justification felt quite ad hoc, even if it was legitimate. It made me notice, however, that I was adopting reasons that contributed to my feeling of doing laundry right. Noticing the distance between my ability to explain why and this definitive sense that two sharp shakes seemed to both serve some functions and also set the appropriate pacing for laundry hanging made me also notice than when I was too rushed to take the time for each garments' shakes (it turns out I shake them both before hanging and after), the need to shake them out lingers with the clothing, and I'll find myself wondering if it's legit to shake them in the bedroom, or if I need to shake any potential loitering spiders out on the porch, or out the window.

This is clearly a trivial case. However, it strikes me as a good example of the functions that lurk in practices, waiting to be explored. Exploration may provide insights into what makes these practices meaningful—not necessarily why they are persuasive or optimal, but perhaps why they have been made to feel right, perhaps through only dimly remembered instructions or modeled behaviors (it would not have been till years after my formative laundry learning that I regularly hung laundry outside with my mother and grandmother). And it reminds us that the way that we shape spaces to provide these instructions, often outside of explicit language, seems worth regularly exploring and reinvesting in.

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