When I was a kid, every year around this time, Mom and Dad would work hard (and, it seemed to me, happily), shaking the winter out of the house. The screen doors would come out from wherever he kept them and rest against the wall, waiting, while he took off the glass storm doors. The kitchen was a beehive of activity: move the stove and fridge out from the wall, sweep and mop behind them in addition to the usual weekly places, defrost the freezer, put fresh paper in the cupboards, maybe reorganize the pantry shelves and weed out the expired cans, maybe even cull and reorganize the junk drawer.
Spring cleaning is different this year: bleach and disinfecting wipes on counters and drawer pulls and our own doorknobs, daily. Wiping the handles of carts at the grocery. Considering every bag and box and head of broccoli from the store suspect. It’s wearying, imagining an invisible enemy everywhere, over and over and over.
Yet it’s time for that old-fashioned kind of spring cleaning too, and I’m trying to work up the heart for it. As a teacher, writer and editor, I already worked from home a lot, but I had my rounds — Monday nights in the classroom, these days on campus, this day at a favorite coffee shop, random days coworking at a nonprofit with friends employed there who are always glad to let me use an extra space when I’m in the neighborhood and looking for coffeehouse productivity plus known companions, minus the Muzak.
Now all my work is here. The glass jars and newspapers are piling up because my borough isn’t recycling any more and I’m waiting for the day when I feel like venturing to a drop-off place that’s still open. (The jars, though, are coming in handy for storing soups in the freezer, dried goods in the pantry.) Work continues, but like the steady noise in a coffee shop, now it’s set to a background hum of heightened awareness, worry, anxiety, attention to things I never had to be vigilant about before.
The pile of papers and unswept corners can wait. Today the spring cleaning is dusting off this dormant newsletter, moving it to a new home, and looking around for neighbors. In a way, we’re all living in urban cabins for a while. How can we make the best of it?
I can’t say for sure where this newsletter will go. Some stories from my own urban cabin, I imagine, and stories about my neighbors, and food, and what I am learning. (For example, how often and in how many places I tend to touch my face. How to hold my class via Zoom. How to rescue bread dough if your yeast is bad and it doesn’t rise. How to have a doctor visit via Zoom. How long a roll of toilet paper lasts.) I hope it will that, in one way or another, it will always be about living in place, loving on foot. Even at a 6-foot distance.