# of pages written: 10
Let’s talk about something dirty: sponges. At my friend Nikki’s house, where I lived from July until December, we used the same sponge to wipe off the counter and to wash the dishes. I know a lot of people do this, and I know that in the grand scheme of things it’s probably fine, but wiping off a counter with a dish sponge produces a similar feeling down my spine as fingernails on a chalkboard.
At my mom’s house, where I’ve been living off and on since Christmas, we don’t use a sponge to wipe down the counters; we use old rags, which my mom then leaves in a moldy heap by the sink. And because of her environmentally-friendly ways, my mother likes to use her kitchen sponge for as long as humanly possible: until it is slimy and gray and I force her to throw it out.
At my boyfriend Paul’s apartment, where I’ve been spending every other weekend for the past few months, there are often about five sponges surrounding the sink at any given time. He will only use a sponge for a day or two before deciding that it needs to be sterilized in a pot of boiling water. Because of this, there will often be a big pot of boiling sponge soup on the stove, which smells pretty bad, and makes me a little nervous about cooking actual soup in any of his pots.
I don’t mean to sound like an ungrateful snob, because all three of these people have been incredibly wonderful to let me live for a time in their lovely homes. I don’t want to poo-poo their housekeeping methods. Their sponge tactics work fine for them, and I’ll adhere to their ways while I’m living under their roofs.
But if it were my house, if it were my kitchen, I would use a sponge for a moderate amount of time and then throw it away. I would wipe down the counters with a paper towel, or if I used a rag, I’d then put it in the laundry. Yes, I’ve been having fantasies lately about cleaning things my way.
* * *
My first year teaching, I spent a lot of time cleaning. I was teaching in the largest (and arguably most dysfunctional) high school in New Orleans. The summer before I started, they ripped out all of the lockers, leaving ugly, trashy gaps where the lockers had been. There were no doors on the bathroom stalls, and no motivational posters or trophy cases in the hallways.
No matter how much I tried to pretty-up my own classroom, it always looked bad as well. My posters curled from the humidity and fell off the painted cinder block walls. I was constantly standing on chairs, smacking my posters back onto the wall with double-sided tape. And it wasn’t just the humidity that caused damage. Sometimes the kids themselves ripped letters off my bulletin board, or inked ward graffiti on the desks with permanent marker. The desks themselves were mismatched and never in neat rows. And then there was the trash: crumpled paper, candy wrappers, sunflower seeds, broken pencils, pieces of weave. There was always trash on the floor, trash stuffed in the desks, trash overflowing from the trash can. The janitor only came to my room once a week, so I often found myself hauling trash out to the dumpster.
Since the janitor apparently hated me, I brought my own cleaning supplies to school. Every day I swept the room, threw away trash, and straightened the desks into neat rows. Once a week, I wiped down the desks with 409 and got students to help me wash the boards.
But it didn’t matter what I did. After every period, it was like a tornado had blown through my room. Trash everywhere. No more neat rows of desks. Books falling off the shelves. Posters peeling from the wall. I felt like I had no control over my environment, and it was incredibly frustrating and depressing. I had no control over the kids, either. Probably because they felt like they had no control over their environment either. But that’s a different story.
I sometimes forget how much environment affects people, myself included. My students were incredibly difficult, but is it any wonder? Their environment was basically saying to them “we don’t trust you, we don’t believe in you, and we really don’t like you either.” Of course they were going to act out. And because of my frustration with the environment, I started to yell at them, I started to give up on them.
Luckily, my environments lately have been much more pleasant than that New Orleans high school. But I’ve been living in other people’s houses for almost ten months now, and it’s starting to wear on me. I feel like I have little control over my environment, which, from time to time, makes me feel stressed and frustrated. Maybe that’s why I’m letting little things like sponge usage get to me.
As much as I like to pretend that I am a free-spirited person who can go along with anything, the truth is I like order, and, in particular, I like my own order. I like to feel like I have some control. Doesn’t everyone?
I’ve talked before about how my environment affects my ability to write – I have trouble writing in places that are loud, cold, ugly, windy, etc. But I’ve forgotten to be thankful that with writing itself, I am in control. In my stories and poems and blogs, I have ultimate control over the environment and everything that happens in it.
Maybe this will be enough to tide me over for the next few months when I will finally have my own place and get to have control over the sponges in the kitchen. Some control, anyway. I guess Paul and I will have to reach a compromise about the number of sponges allowed in the kitchen and how often he can boil them.