Tolstoy’s Thoughts while Cleaning

Reading an article about the language of poetry, I came upon what you could call a super-serious shower thought by none other than Leo Tolstoy [*]. Only it wasn’t technically a shower thought, but one conceived while cleaning. I guess they didn’t shower in those days.

I was dusting the furniture and as I walked up to the settee, I couldn’t recall whether I had dusted it or not. Because the activity is of the simple and unconscious sort, I couldn’t recall it, and felt that the moment was gone. So if I had dusted the settee but didn’t remember it, i.e. I acted unconsciously, it’s like it hadn’t happened at all. If someone had been consciously watching it, they could recall it; but if no one had been watching it, or if someone had been watching it unconsciously – if someone’s whole life passes without them being conscious of it, as it often happens, then it’s like they never lived.

And I just thought, what an ending to this otherwise mundane story.

Because it happens all the time that we do things, go to places, talk to people, etc. automatically, and then forget that we’ve done something, been somewhere, met someone. It’s not bad at all. In fact, with the amount of information our brains are flooded with every day, it’s only healthy that we keep some of it out.

But what if this forgetfulness, on a higher level, brings us to a tragic ending?

A woman once asked me at the end of an unconscious rant, during a severe bout of schizophrenia, “So I’ve managed to live my whole life in oblivion?” It was then that I realized that ruining your life doesn’t have to be this one-time event that produces enough Wolverine-style guilt to hold out for all your remaining days on earth.

It can be the small things: the fact you gradually came to terms with teachers calling you a moron, and stopped caring about your education; the important decisions you let your parents take for you; the longer-than-bearable time you spent in one flat with your ex; the hundred times you decided to go to work instead of to a doctor when you felt ill.

Because we’re all conscious of the fact that it is our responsibility, and ours only, to keep ourselves satisfied, free of misery and healthy, right? But then, life in general, and our inner lives, too, are so full of everything that we sometimes neglect this responsibility.

Take it from me, then: before it all comes to an unhappy ending for you, or for anybody else — yes, I mean: do that quickly! — go and do something good for yourself.

Whatever you choose to do, let it be the thing you need and/or want most right now. Something that will make you happy, or put an end to you feeling unhappy, something that will make you grow, something you’ve never experienced but always dreamed about.

Or at least make a plan and keep to that plan, okay?


[*] The excerpt comes from Tolstoy’s diaries as quoted by Victor Shklovsky in “Art as Device” and translated, for the lack of an English translation at hand, by myself.


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I'm an unprofessional writer, reader and translator. I'm also a walking, breathing and listening addict. And I love being all that.

5 thoughts on “Tolstoy’s Thoughts while Cleaning”

  1. Insightful. I thank you for this post as well. Things like that, thoughts like that, should be printed and hung on a wall so that people are bound to read them every single day until they learn that they shouldn’t let it go and let everything flow and pass them by. It’s extremely sad when we do it, sometimes it’s a defence mechanism – when we can’t cope with reality, other times it’s just laziness. And the second thing is inexcusable, it’s a choice we make and it is how we lose our lives out of our own choice, I think.
    Which makes me realise that I really do need this kind of things to be repeated and stated all over again until I choose to live consciously every single day.

    Liked by 1 person

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