I have a card box filled with a mix of birthday, new baby, sympathy, thank you, and left over Christmas cards. And I have a few of the ‘blank for your own message’ type, the ones I come across and buy thinking, ‘that’s perfect for so and so’ and then I forget ever to send it and the appropriateness lapses, or I forget why it was so apt, and it falls to the bottom of the pile, not funny anymore. The one with the prim lady sitting in a modest pose on some stone steps in front of a house falls into that category. Her full-skirted dress is spread in a pool of polka dots around her, knees together and dropped to one side, lemon peep-toe shoes and nylon gloves of the same colour, and matching bag (that small, tastefully dull type that the Queen carries) nestled over one arm while she smiles earnestly into the camera. She smacks of dependability and duty, convention and constancy. Then comes the caption, which reads: ‘I’ve just buried my ironing in the back garden.’ Ok, it’s not that funny, unless the bane of your life is an endless supply of other people’s crumpled clothes in which case you might be drawn to its wry, subversive message harking back to a time when to have a woman at home dashing way with the smoothing iron was just the thing needed to steal his heart away. Still, even these days, the thought of a pile of ironing is enough to illicit cries of pain from young and old, and yes, usually women.
But how about if I pitched ironing to you as a meditative act? I know, it’s a push, but I have been applying Eckhart Tolle’s, ‘Power of Now’ (isn’t his monotone voice oddly compelling and hypnotic?) and its three modalities of awakened doing to ironing. Let’s agree that burying clean but crumpled laundry is not an option (or at least not a sensible one), and let’s jump on board with Tolle and agree we have three possible approaches to ironing. Firstly: Acceptance. Get on with it and stop moaning. Adopt the old, ‘I am so lucky that I possess these lovely garments in the first place.’ Whistle while you work, false jollity if needs be, and it will all be done before you know it. Second option: Enjoyment. Throw yourself into the moment, trick your brain, find something on the radio and actively have fun with this. Thirdly: Enthusiasm. Air punch. I LOVE ironing! Squirt, squirt, hiss, hiss, swish, swish. This is the dashing away person who delights in empty hangers being filled with crisp cotton collars, piles of levelled linen, and smooth sides of silk. This person owns a top of the range steam iron and thinks that the opposite of irony is not sincerity but wrinkly.
This morning I ironed. A few things, I never have much, and I tried to pitch myself into category two. It was a tablecloth: linen, handstitched with gold seaweed and abstracted pufferfish. It feels like a new prize when I got it done. That said, had there been a dozen shirts lying in the basket beneath it I think I would have struggled to muster an ounce acceptance to my task. Whether you are a campaigner for the crumpled or a slave to smooth, ironing can be a mindful act, I promise. Rescind control of the smoothing iron and share some awakened doing with your children, husband, or any of those unfamiliar with the iron. After all, think of all that enjoyment you have been denying them.
Ironing, by Vicki Feaver
I used to iron everything:
My iron flying over sheets and towels
like a sledge chased by wolves over snow;
the flex twisting and crinking
until the sheath frayed, exposing
wires like nerves. I stood like a horse
with a smoking hoof,
inviting anyone who dared
to lie on my silver padded board,
to be pressed to the thinness
of dolls cut from paper.
I’d have commandeered a crane
if I could, got the welders at Jarrow
to heat me an iron the size of a tug
to flatten the house.
Then for years I ironed nothing.
I put the iron in a high cupboard.
I converted to crumpledness.
And now I iron again: shaking
dark spots of water onto wrinkled
silk, nosing into sleeves, round
buttons, breathing the sweet heated smell
hot metal draws from newly-washed
cloth, until my blouse dries
to a shining, creaseless blue,
an airy shape with room to push
my arms, breasts, lungs, heart into.