I haven’t written a column since October. Even my mother has given up on me, but not before lecturing me about the privilege of writing a column. She reminds me, every time she talks to me, that many writers would like to take my place and that no one is going to beg me to keep writing.

I have no good answer to her question about why I haven’t written a column in two months. But I can tell you this: If you stop doing something you love, it gets harder to do it, and in the void left behind is a vacuum cleaner waiting to be pushed.

Cleaning is becoming my excuse not to write. (You know you are preoccupied with cleaning when you find yourself vacuuming under your 19-year-old’s feet as she rests on the couch. You gently move her legs to reach the scattered pine needles, all the while being careful not to disturb her important phone-work.)

It’s no surprise that my 2016 Christmas gifts included: work gloves, a carefully selected dish drainer that was returned for an even better one, four striped dish towels, a beautiful chartreuse pot scrubber and one geometric patterned multi-colored mesh kitchen scrubby, pretty enough to use on my face as an exfoliator if I were willing to lose some serious skin.

I was also given a sweet galvanized steel bucket that fits perfectly on the kitchen counter and is used for collecting food scraps for our chickens.

I can stand at my kitchen sink and see all my beautiful gifts except two: bath gel so that I will relax – fat chance, and wishful thinking on the gift giver’s part – and a purple down vest to keep me warm when I let the chickens out at 7 a.m.


I have decided that a vest makes me feel powerful and safe, so I will not complain about its being the wrong shade of purple or about its goofy hood. It is my calming ThunderShirt (like the garments marketed to owners of anxious pets) for the storms ahead in 2017.

My daughter gave me lipstick and eyeshadow.

All of these gifts were, apparently, wrapped by squirrels.

Our small family of three, plus a dog and eight chickens, has completely given up on the idea that wrapping is part of the beauty of gift giving. I am the only one who uses tape and occasionally adds a bow. Why use tape if you can roll, tuck and tie just like the Japanese? Why buy new wrapping paper when there are seven partial rolls in the closet and one three-quarters-full CVS brand tape dispenser, just enough for me?

As a mother I feel compelled to place gifts under the tree a few days before Christmas morning, but the gifts given to me are wrapped at 7 a.m. and opened by 8 a.m.

Frederick and our daughter might as well hand my gifts to me at the checkout. They wrap because they are supposed to wrap. As I pour my coffee on Christmas morning, I am instructed to look the other way while they smash Santa paper around an awkwardly shaped object.


This year my daughter woke up with a flaming red throat and blue-cheese tonsils. I wrapped her gifts for her dad and he wrapped her gifts for me. The value added by fancy wrapping techniques is worth nothing to these squirrels. A trip to France would make more sense.

Every two weeks for the last three years, I have been brave enough to write a column. It’s not easy, as you can see. I’ve just written 750 words about cleaning and wrapping.

But, lately I’ve avoided that blank screen waiting for a subject and justified it by diminishing its worth: No one is speaking to anyone he or she disagrees with, so why bother saying anything at all?

Our society seems so angry and so divided that I’d really prefer to leave until it’s settled. I could easily fill the new year with things like cleaning the chicken coop, doing laundry and binge watching “The West Wing.” Activities like vacuuming have become an exaggerated part of my weekend. I’ve started to limit my activities to things that are comfortable and safe. My circle of friends is shrinking.

My advice to myself for 2017? (I wouldn’t dare offer advice to anyone else.)

Listen more. Vacuum less. Save for France. Have dinner with a friend and a foe and wear your ThunderShirt.

Happy New Year.

Jolene McGowan lives and works in Portland with her husband, daughter and dog and has no plans to leave, ever. She can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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