I wouldn’t necessarily want this to get around—and I certainly don’t need my wife to find out—but I kinda like vacuuming the house. It’s not that I run and get the Hoover out every time I have the place to myself. But as putatively odious indoor domestic tasks go, I’ll take vacuuming over just about any other. I’d much rather vacuum the family room, for example, than get stuck doing the dinner dishes.
So I had to sit up and take notice when I read this from Joyce Carol Oates in the New York Times Magazine: “I go into a very happy state of mind when I’m vacuuming. I think some of my male colleagues, like Philip Roth and Don DeLillo, are completely denied this pleasure.”
I know what she means about the “happy state of mind.” What’s not to like? Vacuuming is a mindless job and it asks so little of us in the way of motor skills or hand-eye coordination. And the payoff is immediate and obvious. Those goldfish cracker crumbs the kid left in his wake, those bits of dried mud from the garden, those little curlicues of paper that fall loose when you tear a sheet from a spiral notebook: all of it vanishes and the carpet is left looking as pristine as a putting green. And when you really get in a vacuuming groove, you start to move with the machine like it’s a dance partner. Sort of.
But is Oates right to assume that male writers are “denied this pleasure?” Granted, maybe it’s hard to imagine Roth or DeLillo getting too domestic. But why bring gender into it? I don’t really see Joan Didion making a quick pass over the rec room before company drops by, either. Are there any major American writers—besides Oates, of course—who really know their way around a Hoover? Jonathan Franzen? T.C. Boyle? Cynthia Ozick? Or are the domestic arts and the literary arts mutually exclusive?