It doesn’t get more prosaic than the clothesline. Once a household staple, now replaced in most of the US with washer/dryer units, they’re a rare sight for many Americans. Yet go abroad and they’re still ubiquitous, used either by necessity or by desire, for a more eco-friendly life or the wonderful feeling of clothes dried in the sunshine.
I’ve always thought that clotheslines are like impromptu garlands. Though they are explicitly functional objects, as are the items that hang on them, they imbue a space with a celebratory feeling. They add color and draw the eye upwards. This is especially true in cities, where clotheslines festoon alleyways, swooping from window to window up several stories.
On clotheslines, the clothes themselves become more than just pants or t-shirts; unified by color and drape, they are more like flags of different shapes. This is a great reminder of how grouping things together changes how we perceive them. And you can see some ideas of curation in the launderer, making choices about color adjacencies, patterns, and scale. In effect, this person, the unseen clothes-washer, is a designer of public space, changing how neighbors and tourists experience the buildings, streets, and passageways between them.
I spotted these particular clothesline photos in the Instagram feed of my friend Sheena Matheiken; she has a wonderful, joyful eye and I had to share them with you. Clotheslines seem emblematic of the idea that joy is in your prism, in how you choose to see the world. You could see them as intrusions in the landscape, objects of toil or clutter. Or you can relish their quotidian beauty, the way the light shines through them, and the charming absurdity of seeing a stranger’s underwear fluttering in the open breeze. Anaïs Nin famously said, “We don’t see things as they are. We see them as we are.”
I think I see so much joy in the world because I choose to see it that way. Some people think that if you’re looking so much for joy, you’ll have high expectations that are often disappointed. But I don’t believe it works that way. Being joyful by nature, and by intention, I find it jumps out at me. I don’t actually have to look very hard; it finds me.
What are your “clotheslines?” What are your favorite examples of everyday things that become joyful when you really look at them?
Images: Sheena Matheiken