Seth Brown | The Pun Also Rises: Absence makes the heart go launder

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As an author, people sometimes ask me what writing a book is like, and I tell them it's the exact opposite of doing laundry.

Laundry, you see, is a task that always looms large. It sounds like it will be an ordeal, whole days get mentally classified as "laundry day," and the general feeling around it (for me and at least one other person I know) is that laundry is an arduous and onerous chore promising a day filled with drudgery. And then when it's time to do it, I realize, oh, I sort of just throw things in a machine and then wait a bit. That's... really not so bad.

In the old days, of course, it was different. Laundry involved a lot of filling bins with water, relentlessly scrubbing things against musical instruments, and then drying them out by putting them into the kind of death trap normally reserved for Batman or James Bond. Sometimes this was followed by hanging it all up on the lawn to mark your territory, in order to dissuade roving bands from hanging their laundry on your lawn. The whole process took hours.

Admittedly, laundry today takes me even longer, but that's because I do laundry very slowly. Tonight at around midnight I folded and put away my clean clothes. They had been sitting on my bed since this morning, when I took them out of the dryer where they had been living since the day before. But in terms of actual time spent interacting with the laundry, I suffered a mere matter of minutes, a minute amount of actual effort. The idea of laundry, however, seemed like a difficult and terrible thing.

Writing a book is the exact opposite. The idea of writing a book is fun and attractive, much in the way that I'm not. Most people think it would be nice to write a book sometime, and many of them already have an idea for what they want to write about, and presume that's 80 percent of the job, and getting the book written won't require much more effort on their part. This is occasionally true, but mostly just for people who hire someone like me as a ghostwriter. The rest of us find that writing a book is actually a whole lot of work.

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A decade or two ago, when I first made these observations, my conclusion was that doing laundry wasn't actually hard, because it was just mental effort, and not real effort. But upon reflection, I think this conclusion may be flawed.

Mental effort is real effort. If laundry was actually easy, it wouldn't take me days to do it when I have a washing machine in my house. And just as some people have heavier loads of laundry to do, some people are already carrying a heavier mental load — and the washing machine of life offers no setting for Delicates. Indeed, some people may be burdened with worrying about things like college loans, creating a pressing need for some sort of cleaning reform: Debt urgin' dat urgent detergent.

Adding laundry to an already-stacked mental pile makes it more difficult. Furthermore, it's a bit odd for me to claim mental effort isn't real effort like writing a book, because writing a book is certainly mental effort. It's not the physical act of pushing keys on a keyboard that makes writing difficult. It's the fact that this keyboard also connects to an internet filled with 1,000 games with a higher fun-to-effort ratio than writing. So while I previously thought writing effort was completely different than mental effort, now I'm not so sure.

Basically, it all comes out in the wash.

Seth Brown, of North Adams, is an award-winning humor writer and the author of "From God To Verse." His website is The opinions expressed by columnists do not necessarily reflect the views of The Berkshire Eagle.


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