Ask Jolie Holland (cleanliness, our dearly departed)

Dear Jolie,

I hate cleaning, but I also hate it when my disgusting environment gives me rashes. Especially during the summer. Ickies! Black clothing and the occasional bath can only do so much! How can I stop the UN-sanity???

Exasperated in Eagle Rock

Dear Exasperated,

I feel you. I have hated cleaning most of my life, but lately I’ve come up with some methods that are working for me.

You can work from one or both directions, by trying to motivate yourself, and by understanding why you don’t want to clean.

I think you’ve got to inspire yourself to clean. That is, I’m not suggesting you bully or manipulate yourself into doing something you don’t feel like doing. Find some way to motivate yourself in a positive way.

Personally, I am really motivated by beauty. One time I had a big room to organize and didn’t know how to start, so I went out and got a beautiful rug. That was all I needed, really, to get in gear. The rest of the job came into focus around that center.

And it’s helpful to know why you don’t like to clean. I think I understand my aversion to cleaning. It mainly comes down to the fact that my evil stepmother was the one who taught me. She treated her husband’s kids like a tiny cleaning service on our court-appointed visits.

Unfortunately, I have to supplant her negative image with positive ones almost every time I clean. For instance, I think about friends I love who have a very good attitude toward cleaning. I bring my friend Elaine to mind. I remember her home, and the art studio where she works, and how good those spaces feel. She has an honestly positive attitude about cleaning. Incredibly, my best friend Tim likes to clean toilets, so he makes a good role model. In most Miyazaki movies, there are amazing scenes of triumphant, joyous cleaning jobs. Howl’s Moving Castle and My Neighbor Totoro both feature ecstatic orgies of soap bubbles.

Another way to dissolve the mental block is by using timers, an album, or a podcast. The timer tells me it only takes three minutes to make the bed, only twenty minutes to do all the dishes and clean the hell out of the kitchen. Those few minutes loom so much larger than they really are. And it’s really nice to have a clean kitchen, a made bed.

And we can go at it from a philosophical angle: your home is for you. It’s where you make art, food, love. Your consciousness, your energy, and the lives of your loved ones are the true inhabitants of your home. Our stuff, our space is meant to serve us, not take up time or hinder our purposes. I think that fully expressing this reality can look a lot of different ways, because we all have different needs and purposes. A person can be a slave to their home, and on one end of the spectrum that looks like a pristine, neurotically fashionable place. The home is so aesthetic that it is useless. On the other hand you can have a hoarder’s place, where humans are subordinate to inanimate objects, squirreling through narrow trails in rooms packed with stuff. What does your space mean to you? How do you want to relate to it?

And lastly, make sure you have the right tools for the job. I’m allergic to synthetic smells, so I just use cheap borax for scouring powder, and I buy other well-made, non-toxic products whose smell doesn’t actively dis-inspire me.


Question. My folks have passed away some time ago. In one sense, they are further than far away. They are gone. Yet it seems like they are right here with me, have never left, and are somehow closer than ever. We converse. Am I nuts?

Dear Bill,

I’ve heard friends describe similar experiences, and I’ve felt the same. After my buddy Gerard Smith (of TV On The Radio) died, I felt him with me in a strange, omnipresent way. There’s that saying, somebody is not really dead if their memory lives on with those who have loved them. Humans are weird, ritualistic creatures, and sometimes our psyches work more literally that we might suppose.

One of the sweetest ghost stories I’ve ever heard was told to me by my esteemed bandmate Keith Cary. Keith’s old neighbor was madly in love. It was love at first sight, and they were married within days of meeting one another. She died in a train accident as a young woman, and thereafter for the rest of his long life, he said she came and slept with him every night.

The present global pseudoscientific monoculture is a tiny blip on the map of human experience. For most of our history we’ve had a stronger relationship with our ancestors, our dead, than we do now.

Just a few decades ago, we were taking care of our old folks at home, laying out dead relatives in the parlor, digging their graves, and in a lot of places in Europe, digging the bones back up and bringing them home after a few years.

I don’t know where you grew up, but I’m from Houston, Texas, where there are big Asian communities. So many of the restaurants and businesses have ancestor shrines with fruit and incense. Mexican culture is ubiquitous, so Dia de Los Muertos is a big celebration. It’s valuable to stand at cultural crossroads, to remember there are so many different stories about what it means to be human.

The DSM is our culture’s receptacle for definitions of the insanities, but the book changes so frequently. Homosexuals were recently considered crazy, and now there’s a psychiatric label for bratty children.

How do you want to relate to your consciousness? How do you relate to your loved ones? What does your life, your experience mean to you?

I think the question really is what’s more important to you: do you value a book like the Bible, the Bhagavad Gita or the DSM more than your relationship to your own consciousness? Who is the authority of your experience? Who better understands the complete context of your feelings than yourself?

My best friend’s mother was really brilliant. I never got to meet her, but I think about some of her sayings almost every single day. She taught her kids that reading the Bible was fine and good, but that it is of greater importance to be aware of how the divine speaks to you presently in “the Gospel of Now, the Book of You.”

Obviously, she was a religious Christian lady, but the clarity of her expression holds well in other contexts. Your own experience of your consciousness defines how you relate to authority figures, and it is always true that no one is capable of being a greater authority of your own experience than you.

ALL THAT SAID, there are obviously crazy people, people who have lost their one-pointedness. And if we’re talking about fine lines of certainty, we all know there are assholes in prison who believe God told them to murder someone.

There is a popular scientific faction today that ‘reasons’ away the existence of human consciousness. (I call those kind of people fundamentalist atheists.) I’m talking about famous intellectuals who profess that consciousness does not exist. Really.

And the pillars of psychology themselves, Freud and Jung could be judged batshit crazy by a few standards. Freud stood by his assertion to the end of his days that what was Wrong with people is that most of them had not fucked their parents. Really. The drive theory is perfectly insane. And Jung kept his hallucinatory visions private until his last book which he insisted upon releasing post-mortem. So what does ‘crazy’ mean?

Sorry if I’m not much help. You asked a really big question. Dr. Raymond Moody did extensive social science documenting near death experiences, and something he calls shared death experiences. He just put out a book on shared death experiences called Glimpses of Eternity. Near Death Experience Research Foundation, is an interesting resource and database of thousands of first hand stories from around the world. You might want to check some of this stuff out.