Saturday, March 10, 2007

The System: or, Flex Before Somebody Snaps

In our house we have a System when it comes to dishes. It’s quite simple. You do your own.

The System works pretty well. It’s the only way we’ve been able to keep the peace with six women using dishes in the house. It isn’t perfect though. It breaks down when someone doesn’t do their dishes for a week or when people forget which dishes are theirs. Confusion over ownership wreaks the most havoc on the System, and unfortunately the dishes are the ones who suffer, sitting unclaimed on the counter wallowing in their filth until someone breaks down and does them.

It wouldn’t be such a problem – or a topic for my blog – if this house wasn’t filled with such stubborn women. Let me introduce them to you –

First, we have L. L. refuses to do dishes that aren’t hers because she is of the firm belief that the dishes piling up belong to M., who she doesn’t really like and with whom any excuse to like her less is a viable reason to make life difficult for everyone around. She doesn’t see that aspect of it, but it’s true non-the-less.

Then we have the infamous M., of whom I’ve written before. M. is tired of all the extra dishes being blamed on her and likewise refuses to do any extra dishes – although she does tend to forget what she has actually used and blame her work on others, particularly L. and C.

C., the first one of us to live here and who thus lays claim (subconsciously or not) to the title of Alpha Bitch, has a good memory as to what she has and has not used for dishes. She rarely is a culprit when it comes to over-flowing counters. She usually has to play the role of dish-Nazi (the one who makes others do their dishes).

J. doesn’t do her dishes upstairs, and so has excluded herself from the System – although when a dish disappears for a month it’s usually because it has been wallowing in her sink downstairs.

R. adheres to the System. She does her dishes with OCD-like attention to detail, and thus avoids the perennial conflict when it comes to arguments of ownership.

I occasionally leave dishes and have been known to forget which ones are mine. However the System is so ingrained in me that when I was home for Christmas I used a plate and then washed it immediately, ignoring the pile of dishes from the previous meal (much to my mother’s irritation. She doesn’t understand the overwhelming influence of the System). I also will wash other people’s dishes if someone else will put them away – I hate putting dishes away but washing them doesn’t bother me. Much.

In this latest uprising of plates and cups half of the house was absent, leaving L. and M. to battle out the ownership issue. I had been observing the dishes and knowing their eating habits, I was pretty sure that they were the result of an even split between the two of them, but neither of them were willing to budge an inch to do any more than what they believed was their responsibility. Fuck, I hate legalism.

I finally got sick of the whole mess and took out my frustration at the breakdown of the System in the most passive-aggressive yet positive way I could. I did all of the fucking dishes and then cleaned the kitchen to boot.

I did receive gratitude in the form of lip-service, but that evening again I witnessed the strict adherence to the System to the exclusion of mercy or grace.

I think I hate the System too.

The problem is that I know that the System works. It isn’t the System that is broken. It’s the understanding of the System. There needs to be a bit of flex room, a place of grace where each member of the house will accept doing a few extra dishes now and then to help out a friend (or to stop an argument that will overflow onto friends – or the floor). There needs to be an understanding that no System works without flexibility to work outside the rules.

I discussed this with R. when she returned from her study break. I got quite worked up about it (the swearing in this post isn’t gratuitous; it accurately reflects my feelings on the subject). R. sensed my pent-up rage and asked me if we needed to have a house meeting. I said I thought it would be okay. I am the queen of taking deep breaths and taking things in stride. I can hold out until the end of term, when M. is leaving and L. will suddenly remember what it means to help out the people around her instead of doing her own fair share and letting everyone else take up the slack.

If this situation rises again before the end of March, though, I’m going to fucking flip out and it won’t be a pretty sight.

I just wish we could all just remember to have some flexibility within our Systems. Maybe then our lives would run a little more smoothly.

At least I’d have to find something else to snap about.

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