Friday, September 02, 2011

Zen and the Art of Washing up by Hand

As a musician, I loathe and detest background music. This is becoming more and more difficult to avoid; supermarkets have had it for ages now, pubs unfortunately too, of course - that awful piped musak. Now you get it on the phone when you call, say, the gas board about a leak, “...all our operators are busy at the moment - please hold the line - your call is important to us - dah da dee, lah la la...doo doo dee dah...”, on planes when you are waiting to take off, in offices and factories; it's even creeping in to news programmes on the tele to underscore the drama of the events - like the piano music in the age of silent films – as if we are all so totally and utterly disconnected emotionally from our fellow humans that we need the music to make us understand if the news is good or bad, hellishly shocking or heart-warmingly uplifting.

Well, I can't abide it. As far as I'm concerned you either sit down and listen to your music or you don't have it on at all!!(I am aware, by the way, that this is an extreme view!)

Joggers, cyclists, commuters, they all have their audio receptors plugged in to some insidious little device which goes on pumping sounds into their brains, squeezing out their thoughts and giving them all that uniform vacant, zombie look.

And just what is this background music for??? I assume it is to relieve whatever monotony a task or journey or whatever may entail by filling in the space in your brain where you might otherwise run the risk of being forced to think about something.

Monotony = boredom = today's most incredibly uncool situation.

But, could it be that monotony or the performance of repetitive menial tasks might free up some space in your brain for some bursts of creativity?

I think I first noticed that this could be the case during a tedious summer job in a bakery when I was a student. I was a dough turner-overer...basically, dough was extruded into baking tins on a conveyor belt by some mysterious dough extruding machine above my head and I had to make sure the “seam” (bakers out there will surely roll their eyes and mutter the correct term to themselves) was facing upwards so that the loaf would bake with a crusty split at the top. That was eight hour shift of checking squidges of dough as they rumbled by. Tedious beyond belief but highly automatic and it left my brain with enormous freedom to go where it wanted...writing songs, composing letters, stories – these days possibly blog posts. With no one near me to distract me with idle chat and with the constant noise of the machine drowning out any piped music there might have been, it was possible to drift off into something like a meditative state. I also experience this on long drives in the car – the radio firmly OFF of course. And on camping holidays, the walk to the washing up facilities with a bowl of plastic plates and then the washing up itself was also a chance to be alone and undisturbed for a while...

And lo and behold, the monotony becomes a feature.

Give people a dishwasher and they moan about having to fill it up or empty it, but give them a bowl, some hot water, a dollop of fairy liquid and a stack of dirty dishes and you might put them on the road to meditation - the Zen of washing up by hand.

As I said, I can derive great pleasure from washing up, as long as I only have to do it now and Zen.


Anji said...

Background music might be better if the powers that be choosing it had some kind of musical taste.

I don't own a dishwasher and some of my more inspited posts have come while washing up. Rob washes up in the winter to warm his hands.

Have you still got your copy of Zen and the Art of Motor Cycle Maintenance?

Anji said...

for 'inspited' read inspired

Neutron said...

Hi Anji...I never had a copy of Zen and the Art etc etc...I just read it in bookshops, being a tight-fisted auld git an'all!