It's time to take a higher view of ironing as a consciousness-raising exercise

January 15, 1992|By Colin McEnroe | Colin McEnroe,The Hartford Courant

Sure we all want a higher level of vibratory chakra energy. Sure we all want a transcendent state of consciousness. Sure we all want to focus our inner light.

So iron a shirt, dummy.

"It's a transcendent experience," says Alice DeLana of West Hartford, Conn., an avowed ironing cultist. "There's a certain gliding motion ... and it also smells good. It's the equivalent, for middle-aged ladies, of sniffing glue."

Well, that's one precinct heard from. Scott Nierendorf of Wethersfield, Conn., divides his ironing-feeling (in German philosophy, Plattenregung) into two parts.

"The thought of ironing and getting through the ironing is annoying and disgusting," he muses. "Once you're actually ironing, if there's some good music on and the mood is right, it can be a positive experience. There's something about seeing those creases nice and straight."

E. Todd Williams is not unsympathetic to either camp.

"The soft swish-swush of the iron across the cloth is relaxing for some people, and at times I can make contact with that feeling," Williams says.

Most of the time, DeLana and her kind notwithstanding, ironing is a pretty loathsome task, Williams says.

Who is E. Todd Williams? Merely the author of "The First Men's Guide to Ironing," to be published this spring by St. Martin's Press ($9.95). Williams' ideas about ironing are so revolutionary that he wrote his book under a nom de plume. His real identity is a secret.

Williams says he decided to write about ironing because "that's what I knew. For some odd reason, I've always been expected to do my own ironing."

In his book, Williams writes that men should pretty much forget about marrying somebody who will stay up nights ironing their Oxford broadcloth shirts.

"Amazing, isn't it?" he continues. "She actually prefers the challenge of opening the branch office in Singapore to the nip and tuck of moving an iron around your collar buttons."

In a telephone interview, Williams says ironing is "the task that most often bounces back and forth with not-so-buried anger between husbands and wives."

In his book, Williams argues for a world in which men and women each do their own ironing.

By contrast, Nierendorf says his family practices steam socialism. If it's your turn to iron, he says, you iron for everybody. Sometimes, however, it becomes your turn if you need ironed goods more than your spouse does.

If you buy your shirts at, say, The Gap or Banana Republic, you've probably noticed that, if you whip them out of the dryer and get them on a hanger lickety split, even the cotton ones don't look too bad.

And even if they don't, so what? If everybody took this approach, we'd all have nice, comfy, rumpled shirts and waste no time at the ironing board.

No way, says Williams.

"The world really does expect that American men will appear at work every morning freshly pressed and doesn't really care how they get that way," he says.

On the other hand, as he looks around him, Williams says, "It's wrinkles more often than it's flat fabrics. The people I see need the helping hand of an intrusive guide."

Even Williams admits it would be a better world if we all dressed more loosely "something that draped softly from the shoulders" but he knows that will never happen.

"We're trapped by the duke of Windsor," he says.

The ancient Romans had Lares and Penates, minor gods who were guardians of each household. That's what we, as modern ironers, need: myth, ritual and belief, to imbue our pressing with meaning.

Karin Gottier of Vernon, Conn., a member of the American Costume Society, says ironing, in times of yore, was part of "a whole complex of social customs. There are rituals involved."

Back in the days when laundry was boiled, spread in the sun, bleached, starched and ironed, she says, wash day was a major event. Folk customs grew up around it. Even today, she says, some people of European descent don't do the wash between Christmas and New Year's Day because it's considered very bad luck.

An awful lot of the people interviewed for this article admitted they watch television or listen to music while ironing. But what about bending to the full spiritual potential of the task?

Kathleen Prata, editor of Horizons, a Connecticut publication catering to interests in metaphysics and alternative health practices, says "anything can be done with a certain amount of focus to bring about a higher state of consciousness. The trick is to be totally focused on what you're doing.

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