Through the Keyhole

3 Min read

On laundry and language

2 Book recs

Philosophy and Literature Excerpt: David Wemyss essay on speech and conversation

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On the corner of Park and Cherry, I shared my impression of X— with my husband. Let’s say I was less than generous. We’d been walking through parks before we entered town and I was chatting in my normal voice–clear and deep. I felt a presence and turned to check the traffic light, a stranger just behind me. We crossed to one side of Park and she, to the other. She was slight with a silver-gray cascade of hair, Breton striped shirt over faded denim. A nylon bag hung from her shoulder. What struck me were her sneakers.

I kept silent until after crossing.

“Can you see her?” I asked my husband. “Young? As a girl, with those red shoes.” They were Chuck’s, low tops with white laces.

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Shoes. I could measure a life in shoes. Or laundry. Monday is wash day because it’s the day I run out of good shorts–the kind you like for work-outs. Otherwise I’m into the ones with the loose waistband or the less-then-flattering pair. I should KonMari those right out of the house. Done–laundered and folded. Two pairs Nike shorts, one Asics, two pairs North Face hiking shorts, each with hidden pocket. Swiftwick ankle socks, a pair of Features, Asics, the kind with a left and a right. Five sports bras, fave orange tank, tech-dry tees.

White linens on Tuesday for LB in the blue room. Second set of white linens on Thursday for my brother in the blue room. Clean white towels for both. LB was driving through and later my brother was driving through with a family friend, each staying overnight here on the journey. The three stopped back on the way home; in Acadia LB got caught in the rain. We put his wet clothes through the dryer with wool balls and a few drops of lavender oil. Twin tweety bird linens and sea-foam towels with white coral design for him in the club house–the attic fun room. Green-striped linens for the friend in the spare room.

Laundered white linens on Saturday for my cousin in the blue room. Fresh white towels. My son stopped by Saturday, no linens. Autumn napkin linens on Sunday for my mom who visited to barbecue.

North Face shorts and orange tank this morning. Cool running at 55 degrees. Sun came out and my cousin left.

LB, my brother, fam friend, my son, my cousin, my mom–coming and going–I lost count of the visits and the laundry. Marie Kondo–that queen of tidy–made things right for me in her book, The Magic of Tidying Up. Less resentment and more good will, as I wonder if the sheets feel OK, the mattress cover is too loud, the towels fluffy enough.

The magic is in the welcome and the face-to-face visits.

My cousin is nine years older than I am and speaks Vietnamese with my mother. Dark and wiry, he plays pickle ball and tennis daily. When he was leaving today, he said “Enjoy your mom, each time.”

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I picked up the pace along Park and caught a glimpse of the stranger, her cheek. Tan, young against gray locks. It was like watching a film, her progress along Park a movement in time, a diorama of life’s stages, blurring into each other. The red shoes, the flared denim cuffs, the forward slip of hair. The cool air. She had what she needed.

I don’t remember what I said on the street corner, only that this woman heard it. That it was not kind. I do remember her. Since then, the laundry, the linens. The scent of lavender. The visits with guests. And my mother on my cousin’s arm, walking away.

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FOOTNOTES

*The Black Box Quote is from my Instagram Account. Labels help define the world, ourselves. My three-word Meta tagline is: Veteran, Mother, Writer. It could as easily be the Literate Laundress, among a myriad of other things. Nothing exists in isolation, any moment suspended in time, such as Euclid’s existent nonexistent point. There is and there is no such thing. At the moment I am a writer. But If I had to shed all labels, as Edward Gorey–the elusive and cult author and artist and ballet enthusiast who avoided interviews–supposedly said about who he is: I am a person.

*For those curious about philosophy and literature: Wittgenstein would say that person or any word must stand for a referent, that such-and-such word must refer to something or infer something. Or as Neville Critchley said in an interview, “the gift of language is, like nature, a marvel of self-design–and like nature it contains a sliver of malignancy.” (David Weymss. The World as I Found It: Possibilities and Peculiarties About Speech and Conversation, Philosophy and Literature, Vol 47, No 1. John Hopkins University Press, April 2023 .

  • The World as I Found It:Possibilities and Peculiarities about Speech and Conversation
  • David Wemyss

IN NOVEMBER 2002, a series of tutorials was advertised within the University of Cambridge. Neville Critchley—a lecturer in philosophy with a reputation for preferring literature—placed advertisements on college notice boards saying he wanted to hear from students not just philosophically or intellectually intrigued by language but literally made unwell by it. Four young people replied, one of whom subsequently provided me with an account of what passed in Room C28 at Emmanuel College. Almost thirteen years afterwards, the account was published under the title “The Weighing of Our Words.”1

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Richard Salisbury, who had prepared the account, died in September 2016. His later piece, “A Report on Experience,”2 was published in October 2018—and that was believed to be the last literary production connected with the 2002 tutorials. However, it transpires that Richard’s wife, Carole, who had organized the publication of “A Report on Experience,” was also in possession of an intriguing recording from June 2016—just months before Richard’s death. Carole discovered an audio recording, on a set of old-fashioned, reel-to-reel tapes, of a meeting in the Bedford Hotel in Bloomsbury, London, between her husband and Neville Critchley—fourteen years after they had last met. The conversation was [End Page 210] clearly intended to be transcribed and published, and I remain grateful to Carole for her help and friendship in arranging this.

*The Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo brought order to my life as a quasi hoarder and pack-rat, who wanted and wants to simplify and minimize. The book also helped me embrace the magic in cleanliness and tidiness, especially in doing laundry. I appreciated Dreyer’s English with its opening mandate to KonMari–yes this is the verb formed from syllables of her last and first name–your writing, or Tidy Up your prose.

*In this letter, I wanted to give you a keyhole view of my week, the laundry, linens, running, guests, and of course the rebuke I felt from my own words on the street corner and the subsequent sting as I watched the stranger slip away in time and in my memory, a striking visual and mental imprint of the fleeting realities of life, the hard awareness of my own progress on that continuum, and most pressing, my elderly mother’s decline.

Sep 19, 2023

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About the Author

Mylinh Shattan is a writer who has lived on three continents, served in the Army, worked in corporate America, and taught in college. She loves adventures, in the world and in the mind. Literature is relevant and learning is a lifelong pursuit, so you might as well have a bit of fun along the way.

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