Why I decided to hang it all up

Or, how I discovered the pleasantly scratchy towels of my youth. 

Joanne Ciccarello/Staff

We had a dozen solar panels installed on our roof, but you hardly notice them, except from the very end of the street. This pleases me. Every voting adult in a town like Portland, Ore., is in favor of solar panels, but conspicuous ones seem ostentatious, somehow.

We can track our panels’ performance on the computer, where a readout spins along in real time. Our solar generation arcs through the day in a soothing green, and our hydropower consumption from our public utility ripples alongside it in angry, flaming, dead-salmon red. It wasn’t long before we began to check it obsessively. “That’s when the oven was on,” we’d say, pointing to a blip over a background corrugation from the refrigerator. “And that ... ” 

Holy moly. Every time we ran the clothes dryer a red spike shot clear up to the top of the graph and threatened to impale the browser bar. It was intolerable.

 Not long ago we traded up to a high-efficiency washer and inquired about tax credits for the matching dryer. The salesman was rueful. “There’s no such thing as a ‘high-efficiency’ dryer,” he said. This is one of those things you know deep inside but manage to ignore until you take a red spike to the heart.

We didn’t have a clothes dryer when I was growing up. Every Thursday, Mom hung everything out on the line, straight from the wringer, with the bedsheets providing a cover of modesty for the underwear. She didn’t appear to mind the task, although she did get mightily irked at the birds, especially during mulberry season, when the tree next door had plenty of purple ammunition. She folded everything neatly and put it in a wicker basket.

I had chores, but laundry wasn’t one of them. So when I left home, it took me a while to realize that folded laundry didn’t appear in my drawers by magic. It took time, initiative, and quarters. I still miss the magic, and also the towels, which were wonderfully scratchy. At some point it became important to sell soft, fluffy towels, and now you can’t even get the scratchy ones.

The red spikes on the computer graph affected me the way digested mulberries affected my mother. So we attached cleats to the house and strung out a pair of lines over the back patio. I rummaged around in the basement and came up with my mom’s clothespin bag, full of now-antique wooden clothespins from my childhood. I discovered I actually enjoy hanging out laundry. It is as deeply satisfying as if I had invented photosynthesis. When winter came, during which my laundry could be expected to dry outside by sometime in June, I bought a wooden rack and hung everything up inside. The clothes dryer has joined the ranks of the unemployed. From time to time we pass by it as though it’s an artifact and wipe the lint off the top of it.

And I have nice, scratchy towels again. Just like a lot of good ideas, they were there all along. 

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Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

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